Making the Leap Into Adulthood: One Family’s Experience
by Erika Deering, RN, BSN
This article was written based on an interview conducted
with Allison Cohen and her mother Marlene Cohen
As with every person who graduates from high school, making the leap into adulthood can be confusing and stressful. Thoughts about work, relationships with family and friends, higher education, and where to live run through all minds during this time period. The person with a disability has these same issues to deal with but exacerbated by his/her special need. Allison, a 25-year-old woman who has Down syndrome, is a friend of mine that I met as she was struggling with the above-mentioned concerns during her transition into adulthood. She graduated from a private residential school three years ago. During her education at this school, transition planning was implemented at the age required by law. Learning the necessary vocational skills was made a priority for Allison at that time. The school also began assisting Allison and her family in looking for an appropriate living situation and work setting for when she turned twenty-two (special education is entitled until age 22). When asked if the private school prepared Allison for this transition, Allison’s mother, Marlene stated that, “they did okay with this.” When Allison turned 22 and graduated from school, work at a supported employment workshop was in place as well as plans for Allison to reside in a supervised apartment where she and a support person would live. Even though all these plans were in place, Marlene states, “This is when it all went downhill.”
Three years later, Allison lives with her parents. Staffing for a supervised apartment has never been able to be filled. Group residences have been investigated, but Allison states that she “…will only live in a supervised apartment or with my parents.”
Allison does participate in a supported employment workshop Monday through Friday. However, she is unhappy with this employment experience. Although the staff at the supported workshop have found a job for Allison in the community at Crate and Barrel two afternoons per week, the other hours are spent in the supported workshop. Allison states, “I hate the supported workshop and I want to do clerical work in an office instead.” She also told me that she has been talking with the staff at the supported workshop about finding her more jobs in the community and that they are looking into it.
Relationships are another area that Allison has struggled with during this transition period. When asked about friends, she states sadly that “most of my friends went to my school and I do not see them a lot now that I have graduated.” In the three years since graduation, Allison’s parents have encouraged her to be part of many community activities. She participates in a drama club, a dancing class, and a social events club for people with disabilities that meet every other Saturday and go out dancing, to restaurants, etc.). Marlene states that she has really tried to encourage Allison to make new friends and has done this by signing her up for these activities. However, she feels that Allison continues to feel isolated. Allison is also engaged. She met her fiancé at the social events club that she participates in. Allison plans to get married sometime this year. Her mother is very concerned about this since Allison’s fiancé also has cognitive disabilities. Marlene says that this has been very difficult and Allison and she have had numerous arguments regarding this issue.
The following is a paragraph written by Allison about some of her expectations/dreams in life:
“I Have A Dream”
Hi. My name is Allison Cohen and I have a dream. My dream is to be a rock star and to go on tour around the world singing and dancing for people. That is my dream. I have been having this same dream for a while and I am trying to make it possible. I am talented in music – I play the drums, keyboard, piano, violin, and flute.
Allison’s parents, Marlene and Morton Cohen, write this about their expectations for their daughter:
The transition into adulthood has been difficult for Allison and her family. Her longing for relationships with friends and her engagement are both “normal” parts of this stage of growth and development. Allison knows what she wants concerning a living situation and employment, but unfortunately she is hindered by what is actually available in today’s world for people with disabilities. As with all people going through this transition, expectations are set high. Allison has these same high expectations.
Our expectations of Allison are what you would expect of any child, but with limitations. We hope the future will allow her to live independently (with some supervision), and to hold down a job that will enable her to use the skills she possesses (reading, writing, computer skills). We also wish for her to become more aware of homemaking skills so that she can keep a neat home and prepare meals. We hope that the future will bring many friendships and that her social skills will blossom. We hope that Allison will continue to use her time wisely and always be aware of the importance of learning new skills. Most of all though, we wish that our daughter will continue taking pride in herself, and continue to be the cheerful, ambitious young woman that she is.