As with all children, there is a time when parents need to let go. They need to trust that the world will be good to them and trust that their children are prepared to go into the world. In the previous blog “Parents as Advocates or Road Blocks to Inclusion,” George Martin discussed the importance of parents championing full community participation. This story highlights one man with disabilities whose mother believed he would have an independent life and recognized the moment when it was time to let go. Matthew is celebrating 20 years of living in his own apartment. That seems hard to believe to his mother Karen who shared his story with me.
Matthew has disabilities and needs support twenty-four hours a day. He had friends that were neighbors who would take him to sporting events. Other family and friends always included Matthew in what ever was going on. Everyone knew that Matthew’s gift was being social and connecting people. Matthew attended a school that was meeting his needs at the time and while the other students were friends, he really enjoyed spending most of his time with college students who were assistants or interns. He seemed to know that these college students were his connection to the real community outside of school.
Even though Karen was intentional about Matthew being part of his community, one day Matthew was going to meet friends at the mall – he made it very clear that Karen, his mom, was NOT welcome to stay with him. What young man wants his mom hanging around all the time? This was the day that Karen had an epiphany that would change the course of Matthew’s life. She knew that it was time to really prepare Matthew to have his own life. It was time to let go and the journey began.
Through careful consideration, Matthew and his family sought out a college student to be his roommate. Matthew would have support staff during the day, but the roommate could be the over night staff. They got along really well. So well, in fact, that eventually Chris bought a house in downtown Kalamazoo. Matthew lived (and still lives) in the downstairs apartment and Chris lived upstairs.
Spring forward a few years. Chris eventually got married and Matthew was in the wedding. Karen told Chris’ mom how wonderful he had been in making a great life possible for Matthew. Chris’ mom said that actually Matthew was the one who changed Chris’ life at a time when he was struggling.
Matthew still lives in the same apartment (17 years). Now a young man who happens to be an occupational therapist lives upstairs and serves as Matthew’s overnight support and with the assistance of others Matthew hires all other support to assist him in his daily life. A life of full community participation is possible when parents let go and plan well.