When it comes to advocating for teens with special needs, it takes a village.
So says Denise Hastings, one of four speakers who will share their stories at the 2018 Transitional Fair, hosted by the Jumpstart Lambton Kent Teen Transition Committee.
“When Ryan came out of high school he did some different programs in the community, but it came to a point where he wanted to live in his own home,” Hastings said of her developmentally disabled son, now 34.
“We are a lucky example of how everything all worked out. If you work hard and find the right people, it can work.”
Hastings, a longtime advocate for parents of children with disabilities, worked tirelessly to seek a solution for her adult son — who still requires round-the-clock supervision — outside the standard group home atmosphere.
Her answer came in 2016 in the form of a government pilot project called the Developmental Services Housing Task Force. Hastings, along with the family of Adam Hutchinson, were one of 12 proposals selected by the province, seeking ‘innovative housing solutions designed for people with disabilities.’
Their efforts, thanks to partnerships with LCDS, Habitat for Humanity, Lambton Circles, and other community agencies, culminated in the building of what’s known as “A Divine Life – Community Partners Initiative” — a home on Devine Street where the two men live independently from their families with full-time support workers.
“Ryan’s a happy camper where he is. We still have a lot of input in his life and can see him a lot,” she said. “It’s kind of an extended family, but it does take a lot of work.”
She’s hopeful parents in similar situations can be prepared, if future funding becomes available.
“It’s frustrating for parents, for sure… there are so many different resources and agencies, but you really just have to advocate for you and your child and learn to navigate the system.
“It’s a big effort.”
The Transition Fair, which has been running for about a decade, is targeted at youth whose special needs might include physical, developmental, dual-diagnosis and/or communication challenges.
Event speakers also include Dan Edwards, a former high school footballer turned mental health advocate and motivational speaker after a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed; Chris Molyneaux, an accomplished young musician living with autism; and Darda Sales, a decorated swimmer, wheelchair basketball player, and motivational speaker who lost her right leg in a farm accident when she was two.
“Life after high school for teens can look different for so many families,” said Jumpstart’s Jennifer Howell, noting some will choose post-secondary education, while some will seek other routes.
“Funding looks different as well, once a child turns 18, so we want to give parents that information.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Transition Fair: Life after high school for teens with disabilities
WHEN: Saturday April 21, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
WHERE: Great Lakes Secondary School
DETAILS: To register, contact 519-542-3471 ext. 291 or firstname.lastname@example.org