Folks. We have news. Exciting, nerve-wracking, massive news.
Replace “I’m” with “Dude is.”
Yep. Dude’s moving out.
The first week of April.
As in, less than two weeks from now.
Let’s rewind quickly. Dude has been on the waitlist for a residential placement since he graduated from the school system in 2011. Why?
Some families who have children who need significant assistance with daily living skills choose to keep their adult children at home with them for as long as humanely possible. Other parents don’t want to wait until they are old and/or ill to think about their adult child’s next step. So they try to find a residential placement for the adult. The hope is that the placement will be a good fit… a natural next step. Kind of like going off to college. Kids are eventually supposed to “leave the nest” and learn how to be more independent. Adults with developmental disabilities can do the same. They live with peers and have a staff member in the house with them at all times to assist them depending on what their needs dictate.
One way isn’t better than the other. It all depends on what the family is comfortable with. It just so happens our family preferred Option B.
The waitlists for these placements are long. The need is great. We assumed they wouldn’t get to Dude for another 3-5 years.
Two and a half weeks ago, our parents got the call. “We’ve acquired a new house. We think Dude would be perfect for it. He would need to move in by mid-April.”
Once Mom and Dad picked their jaws up off the floor, they called me. They were shocked, but excited. They wanted to share their excitement with me.
I… didn’t take it well.
I’m not an optimistic person by nature. It’s something I’ve been working really, really, REALLY hard on for the past three years. When I know I’m having an unrealistically negative reaction to something big or small, I try so hard to rationalize it, minimize it, and compartmentalize it.
But at that moment, when I heard our immediate family would no longer be seeing Dude every single day and watching over most aspects of his life, every single anxiety-driven thought that could have possibly gone through my mind did (fun fact: going on YouTube for 3-4 hours and watching montage after montage of Jennifer Lawrence interview clips will eventually help bring down your anxiety level. I dare you to watch her reacting to meeting Jack Nicholson after winning her Oscar and NOT love her. DARE. YOU.).
A few days later I wrote the following in an email to girlfriends from high school who I regularly keep in touch with:
“The rational side of my brain knows that a) this was always part of the plan b) Dude is very adaptable and easy-going, so he will probably adjust well, and c) our family loves this organization and the work they do, so we know they have Dude’s best interests at heart. However, the overprotective sister side of my brain is flipping the heck out and is totally elbowing the rational side out of the way.
I know everything will work out in the long run, and I WILL get to a place where I am 100% positive and happy about this transition, but at this moment, that ain’t happening.. no matter how much I’m trying to force my rational side to take over.”
I told my parents the same. Well.. wrote it to them. I have a hard time verbalizing feelings. If I ever have something super important or emotional to say to someone, they will probably receive a letter or email from me. True story.
I knew I needed more information. And I knew I needed to be involved as much as possible.
So, off we went to look at the house and meet with the transition team. Our parents may or may not have sent an email consisting of ~30 in-depth questions ahead of the meeting (read: they totally did). I’m happy to report that the team was gracious enough to answer them prior to the meeting, so we had information to work with going in.
The house is great. It’s a rancher and feels like it can easily be made comfy and homey (having just acquired the place, they had minimal furniture set up when we saw it). It’s close to where our grandmom lived, so Dude is familiar with the area. At least one of the other adults that will be moving into the house is very similar in temperament to Dude. The transition team answered all our questions competently and assuredly. We’ll be able to stop in and see Dude, take him out for breakfast, dinner, to family events, to the movies, etc. as often as we’d like. They do discourage overnight visits for the first few months, just so the residents don’t get confused over where home is. The longer the meeting went on, the more my parents and I relaxed. By the end of the meeting, everything was decided. We were all excited and positive. Dude was moving out!
I took Dad’s iPad around the house and took a bunch of pictures. When I got back to their house, I downloaded a social story app and created a story telling Dude about his new house and this exciting new step. Mom and Dad showed it to him the next day. He read through it (fun fact: he can read on a 3rd grade level!). His mood didn’t change. We took that as a good sign.
Then came the shopping trips. Ikea, Kohl’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target. Dude is now suited up with brand spanking new furniture (which his family will lovingly assemble for him), a new comforter, sheets, etc. There’s still so much to do!
And of course, we have to put together a binder consisting of “Everything You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know About Dude.” The ins and outs of his daily routines. His language that we’re all fluent in but others don’t easily grasp. What foods he’ll eat. What foods he won’t touch with a 10 foot pole. His favorite leisure activities. Favorite DVDs. How to shave his face. What kinds of medicines he takes and when. What the heck “Pat my back please” means. The list just goes on and on and on.
All I have to say is, thank GOODNESS I started this blog. It’s actually been really helpful for remembering past quirks, current quirks, things he’s capable of doing but doesn’t always do, etc.
Mom and Dad have been going over the social story with him daily. It’s hard to tell what he thinks because his verbal skills are so limited, especially when it comes to expressing abstract concepts like emotions. Our parents think he’s starting to grasp what’s happening because his mood has been a little off lately.
Today was the day Dude actually went to see the house along with one of his future roommates and that young man’s family. I called my parents to see how it went.
“Well,” Dad started, “We went through the social story with him three times before we went. He didn’t want to get out of the van when we got there. Then, he was slow and unsure as he was walking up the path. Mom took him through all the rooms and he was still being hesitant.”
Uh oh, I thought.
“But then, he started to relax. After we were there for a bit, the boys sat at the kitchen table to have a snack, so we took the opportunity to break out the PECS book to see what Dude had to say.”
Mom cut in, “I asked him, ‘Dude, what do you think? How do you feel about your new home?’ He flipped through the book with purpose, picked out the “happy” picture, and posted it on the front.”
Mom continued, “I asked him, ‘Are you happy?’ Dude responded, ‘Happy. Ha! Ha! Ha!'”
I think that’s really all we can ask for. Hopefully all goes smoothly and Dude, our parents, and I continue to be happy and positive about this exciting step!
Editor’s note: Before I was allowed to share this news here (per my parents’ instructions), I sent an email around to some friends and told some people at work. I was so deeply touched by the responses I got. Friends sent notes about how excited they were for our family and for Dude, how they would be praying for us, how they understood how emotionally overwhelming this is, how they knew everything would be fine because of the well-developed support system we have. There were offers to help us with the moving process, offers if I needed to vent/cry, offers of wine and beer. Many people asked how Dude reacted. I felt their heartfelt genuineness as I read their words, and it made me so very grateful and proud of the friends I have in my life. Thanks, you guys 🙂