Posted by Betsy Closs
So little is really known about the 20 year old man who is at the center of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Of course we are taken aback by the enormity of the tragedy. Yet so many aspects of his life are all too familiar, and perhaps it’s that familiarity that is the true horror. Here is a troubled young man, who by one report on NPR, received substantial psychological services while in school “to ensure that he was not bullied.” With hours of professional help, apparently for years, to what avail?
Every year, scores of young adults come to JF&CS Services for People with Disabilities looking for help. These men and women have a variety of needs- learning disabilities, autism, disabling psychiatric conditions. Almost all once qualified for special education services. Then they “graduated” at age 22. School is over. And no job or training program follows. Days are now spent at home, hours in their rooms, often immersed in the computer. These young adults don’t want to isolate. They want to have a chance at a productive life with greater independence. Sadly, these are no tiny minority who “fall through the cracks” of what is otherwise an all inclusive web of care. This is our new normal.
Steve and his mother came to us last week. Steve has autism. He was attending a well-regarded residential school where he made progress. Aggression diminished, academics improved, and life skills were mastered. And then his 22nd birthday came; special education services ended. Steve now faced his most disabling setback. His IQ was not low enough to qualify for much. Although there was demonstrated benefit from comprehensive programming, Steve was not eligible for either residential or day services. Instead of transitioning from school to adulthood, he returned home to his single parent mother. Instead of making consistent progress, Steve graduated to video games and lots of hours spent alone. Quite understandably, old ways have reemerged. He is hurting and he has hurt—himself and his mother, who has been advised to call the police if she feels “threatened.”
Our society faces so many challenges. Tax dollars and charitable giving are stretched thin over many important priorities. I know that we can’t “do it all”, but I know that we must do better. These adults deserve better; these families deserve better; our society deserves better.
Betsy Closs is the director for Services for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family & Children’s Service. She has worked in the field of disabilities for more than twenty years, in both day and residential services as well as quality improvement. She was the director of the MA Governor’s Commission on Mental Retardation before joining the staff at JF&CS in 2002. Betsy has degrees from Vassar and Harvard in addition to her social work degree from Simmons. She has two young adult children, a son who is pursuing a master’s degree in education and a daughter who is a junior in college.