The following post was contributed by Chris Hunnicutt, father and member of the TASH Employment Committee.
Of late, it seems to me that the topic of transition is viewed as a process that begins in middle school, high school, or perhaps in Post-Secondary Education time frames. Further, it seems to be focused mainly on systems being coordinated with a formalized approach to implementing these strategies.
With all due respect, I would suggest that transition begins at the point where a child with special needs comes into our family and communities. For me family includes; our family of origin, the extended family, and families of faith. Community includes the child care, the grocery store, the activities – focused groups, the clubs, the scouts, and any other arena in which we as individuals engage. Community includes, friends, neighbors, coworkers, coaches, team mates, teachers, pastors, professionals, risk takers and the steadfast, and the list goes on. These are the places and people that draw us together, our common thread as valued persons.
As one understands and envisions the future, those beliefs guide the decisions one makes to walk a new path to achieve that future. Clearly, what we know impacts what we can accomplish. And when we obtain that knowledge will determine at what point we begin that journey, and how far, or over what time frame, it will take. The Chinese proverb states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So does a journey of five miles, or five hundred.
So consider this as the point at which you determine you want a different, or rather a typical, journey for your loved one and your family. In these comments there is no judgment, no condemnation, just realization of a desire for new direction. Now asses where you are (including talents, skills resources, “friendlies” etc.), where you want to be, and what moves you, i.e. what steps do you take, from here toward there. First comes a personal choice to achieve typical life experiences, then community participation, then systems renovation that brings change. It is also important to acknowledge that change often involves struggle, and sometimes the goal achieved is different than the one sought. And that reality is a part of the process; we determine, take action, evaluate, adjust and go at it again. Few significant accomplishments occurred on the first attempt; perseverance does matter.
I offer this insight as one who has been “at it” over twenty five years, beginning when we found out we’d have a child with Down syndrome. One who has tried, failed, and succeeded, and failed, and made adjustments; but we continued this strategy. In our lives, my wife and I stated we what we wanted for our son, largely “the same sorts of things and we wanted for our daughter”; playmates & friends, Sunday school participation, children’s choir, classmates in school, classes in schools, camps, mission trips, band, music, dance, martial arts, sports activities and teams, and driving. The things other young people seek. We also saw: going to college, working, contributing, making a difference, paying taxes, serving others, having significant relationships, and living independently. Things other emerging adults seek.
Along the way there have been allies: people with names, relationships that supported our, and now HIS, dreams. And there have been adversaries: individuals, systems, “the real world”, fatigue and discouragement. Sometimes the roles shifted, but never the vision to which we were always transitioning. Today he is included: in his job, in his community, in his church and Bible study groups, in the choir, in martial arts, at the “Y”, in the garden, in chores and community service, and making a difference. And he is still in transition… to new and valued relationships and roles based on the transitions he, and we, had previously.
Wherever your family member is today, there is possibility of progress toward a valued, typical role for tomorrow. The earlier the start the better, yet still there is promise and possibility. It takes making the choice, learning more, taking the steps, finding, networking and cultivating allies, recognizing and encountering the adversaries, and keeping on, regardless. IMO