Demo Day: Saturday our family attended “Demo Day” at the Pegasus Equestrian Center in Brewster, New York, where our daughter, along with other students, demonstrated her equine knowledge and skill acquired in their “Horse & Me” winter “unmounted” program. At the stable, each student in her class stood by a horse while they and their families engaged in a game of guessing horse girth, height and age. Afterwards, families followed the students and volunteers down the hill to the indoor arena where the students led their horses around orange cones, offered them toys and received ribbons for their achievements. Our daughter received a satiny pink ribbon and beamed with pride and pleasure in being a part of that horsey world. In another week she will return to the “mounted” program and ride through the Spring session.
Social Skills Training: Later that evening our family celebrated a birthday with sixty friends at a private room in a neighborhood restaurant. Our daughter and her apartment-mate attended. One of our daughter’s older cousins came with her new beau. According to this cousin, our daughter went over to the gentleman, extended her hand, introduced herself and welcomed him to the party. Five years of boarding school training and an innate social acuity combine to make our daughter impressively skilled at making newcomers feel welcomed. Riverview, her Cape Cod boarding school, placed a great deal of importance on their students offering a warm handshake and welcome to all visitors, many of whom, potential candidates for admission, came for an overnight stay in the dorms as a preparatory method of determining if the student, their family and the school were a good match.
Trained Educators Make The Difference: A critical piece of the special needs education is offering a template for social interaction. Our daughter excelled in this area of her education and has maintained these skills especially as her innate curiosity and interest in others are fostered by this acquired confidence in her ability to engage them appropriately in conversation. Prior to this 24/7 training at her school, our daughter would experience a great deal of anxiety anticipating such a social evening and in the past would have refused to attend. Repeated practice and training in a residential setting over five years laid a foundation of comfort for a lifetime. It is impressive what trained educators can do, if allowed, that makes the future of a special needs individual shift from gloomy to glorious. Riverview School is a model for this type of educational intervention. And we are grateful to them every day of our lives.
Seven Months Down and A Six Month Review: On Friday we mark seven months of adult residential life for our daughter and her apartment-mate. Wednesday, Leap Year Day, I meet with her State of Connecticut DDS (Department of Developmental Services) case manager and her Ability Beyond Disability team to review the first six months. My focus is on the vocational piece. I am able to assess from afar how the residential and social components of her program are progressing but have little information regarding our daughter’s vocational development.
Sharing Lives: Almost all sixty of the attendees at the party celebration this past weekend have known our children their entire lives. Eight of the women are parent members of our daughter’s baby group/book club that has thrived and survived intact these twenty-two years. Two of the women are grandmothers; many have older children who have wedded in recent years. And all of us have twenty-two year olds born within a six month period who now are on the threshold of adulthood, most recent college graduates or soon to be. Only our daughter is more or less “established” in her adult life. She cannot wander through her early twenties in search of her true self, not quite in the same way. Her special needs life requires more definition and supervision; her entitlements impose order and rules; her deficits depend on organization and management. Uncertainty as a daily diet is unacceptable here. The irony of all that cannot be lost on anyone. Certainly not on me.
Often there is an upside to life’s hardships and this is one of them – our daughter is safe and happy in this early stage of her adulthood, and that brings to her family great peace of mind.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012