A Veteran Mom and Young Adult with Autism

A few weeks ago, at a Christmas art show I met a mom with two children, a 13-year old daughter and a 21-year old son with autism. Alice walked into Trent’s art booth and expressed her fascination with Trent’s art. I asked about her son and with enthusiasm in her voice, she spoke of how Rodney loved to draw. Alice talked about his fascination with the Chicago Bears team clothing, an athletic shoe, and the rock bands he downloads on his I’Pod. She then reluctantly talked about how her son became a ward of the state.

Alice served in the Army, and within the past year she was discharged. She left the care of her children with her sister who lived in Texas while she served her country. Starting her new life as a civilian, she traveled briefly around the United States applying and interviewing for jobs. She moved her children to Kentucky with the mindset of a hopeful future for a job offer, but discovered the position promised was not available. Unfortunately, she and her children became homeless, and lived in a shelter for a couple of months.

While in the homeless shelter, social services persuaded her to give up her son as a ward of the state to live in residential community living agency. She realized this placement would offer her son a chance to have his needs met, an opportunity for work and training, and participation in the community.

The day arrived when she learned about warrant for her arrest, shortly after she brought her son home for a brief weekend visit against the agency’s rules. To her dismay, social services built a case against Alice as an unstable parent who moved around the country. Yet, she claimed they did not recognize she was determined to find a job, nor did they acknowledge her outstanding military service as evidence of strong character. Lastly, she had no control over the unavailability of the job she was promised.

Although the incident for her arrest has been resolved, she has been granted a chance to see Rodney where he lives, and she takes advantage of this each day.

There are so many things wrong with this picture and on many different levels. First, this story shows us how indifferent attitudes linger toward our military veterans. Oprah recently had a show about mothers who lost the custody of their children when they were discharged. Mothers who serve in the military appear to be a risk in keeping their children, which impacts the entire family.

Second, during transitions people need a process to improve their lives. Here we have the parallel of two different transitions within one family: (1) a veteran who served her country and (2) the adult transition of her son with autism. Family and Social Services must recognize that veterans become vulnerable for many reasons, some include unemployment and/or family crises. Moreover, they may greatly benefit from a time adjustment to enter civilian life and resources that lead to self- empowerment extending their own control in life. In a real sense Alice needed supports that would enable her to hold her family together.

Thirdly, there exists a tension within society between competing perceptions of what family life should look like when children with disabilities reach young adulthood.

Who can best make decisions about people’s needs in a state of crises or transition? Who can best implement programs designed to meet those needs? These are comprehensive questions requiring comprehensive solutions. But two things are evident. Listening to people’s needs, and placing a high value on keeping people together can offer the family a sense of stability. With resources and opportunities for improvement, each unit, can benefit and in this case the young adult with autism, each family member, and the family as a whole.

Please comment about your experiences. We can all learn from each other. You may share with blog with your friends and colleagues.

Happy New Year to All,