It was the summer of 2006. Aaron’s milestone graduation was over. He was 21 years old, under doctor’s care for Epilepsy and Asperger’s Syndrome, not able to work on his own, and had been on the waiting list for state services for over 3 years. We were very concerned that without the routine of school he would soon want to only be at home and it would be very difficult to get him out into the real world again. Our phone rang one day in July of that summer and there on the other end was Aaron’s case manager. She had such wonderful news for us. Aaron’s name was now at the top of the list! The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. However, we had a series of critical decisions to make in a very short time. The pressure was on, but we knew that God would direct us.
Thus began a long stretch of appointments as we tried to sort out what was available to Aaron. Would we try a work environment for him, and if so, where? Should we pursue a residential setting, putting Aaron in an apartment or home? How many roommates would he have? What kind of medical support for his nighttime seizures? Would a day program, where he would be involved in activities every day, be better? If so, which one? And so we went to a multitude of agencies for interviews; met with potential roommates; looked at possible housing; went to several work centers; and filled out tons of paperwork. There was so much to understand – so much to think about – so many factors to consider. Aaron was at times overwhelmed with it all. He definitely told us he did NOT want to leave home but we understood that and reasoned that with time his mind would change.
In the fall we had made the decision to have Aaron work at a sheltered workshop for 3 days a week and then go to a day program for fun activities the other two days. The day program agency also provided residential services, buying very nice homes on our side of town and staffing them with trained support staff. On the 2 days a week that Aaron went to this day group setting he would end the day at one of the homes as he waited for me to pick him up. This way he could see the home setting that he would hopefully live in one day and become adjusted to it before the time came to move.
The sheltered workshop that he went to 3 days a week has a great reputation and does a good job of providing their clients with a multitude of services. Aaron was there to work for the most part, though, on the days he attended. A bus would pick him up at 7:00 a.m., which was a struggle for Aaron because of having to get up so early. Also, the workshop was very noisy with all levels of special needs and the noise of machinery and talking and yelling. Many days the center had no contracts and therefore no work, so there was lots of down time. Most of Aaron’s pay checks were for 2 or 3 dollars. The majority of his check went to pay for the bus ride. This setting was becoming more and more frustrating for Aaron. One morning before the bus came, he threw his coffee cup on the floor in frustration. We were feeling that we needed to find a better setting for him. But where?
In the meantime, his day group seemed to be going well. One Friday, though, when I picked him up from his group at the group home, he was crying. When I questioned him, he just said that he was tired and wanted me to hurry and get there. It wasn’t until the next night, when he and I were playing Skip-Bo, that he began to tell me what had happened the day before. He said that the staff that was driving the van home from bowling got mad at him. This man stopped the van, pulled Aaron out, threatened him, pushed him, continued to berate and taunt him at the house, etc. Thankfully it was only verbal and physical as far as pushing. Aaron told Gary the same story, word for word. We told him not to tell anyone else until we could talk to his case manager, but when she came to his workplace on Monday morning he began to tell her. She took him to her office, wrote down what he said, and before we even knew anything an investigation was already in the process with SRS. Oh my! We had no idea how this would all turn out, but we were mainly concerned for Aaron and his well-being. Gary and I had meetings with this agency, confronting them with the issues, and nothing was resolved. SRS finally determined that it was Aaron’s word against the agency so that was that. But we felt that God had definitely shut this door and so we no longer pursued a residential setting for Aaron. We also pulled Aaron out of the work center, so now we were back at square one.
One of the agencies that we had briefly interviewed months earlier was a group called Paradigm. We met with them again, going to a restaurant where they had the group out to eat. The clients were all very high functioning and were so friendly to Aaron, welcoming him and talking to him. Aaron seemed comfortable and at ease with them, and with the very outgoing staff. We decided to give this group a try and have been with them since that time. Paradigm has an awesome staff who are young and fun loving, understanding of Aaron, and very patient. Every weekday they are on the go and Aaron has really blossomed there. Some of the staff even occasionally come over on a weekend to take Aaron to lunch! It’s been the perfect setting for Aaron and a huge blessing to Gary and I.
So at this point in time Aaron still lives at home. We know that decisions will need to be made in the future for him to live somewhere else. We know that we need to prepare him – and ourselves – for that reality. We thank God for the doors He has opened, for the wonderful people that He has put into Aaron’s life, and for what He will yet do. And I thank Him over and over for the work He has done in my heart. That will be another story.