It hit me today that I have reached the point where I don’t always know where Nigel is – and I’m okay with that. He is in a supported living program. He’s not in college or driving. But he turns 21 in two months, and he is a walking, talking special needs success story.
It was fourteen months ago, with no small amount of trepidation on my part and his, that Nigel was given the key to his own apartment. In his words, he has “learned a lot” since then and wisely remarks that he is still learning. He is semi-independent, receiving daily support from Living Opportunities, a local organization that provides support for adults with developmental disabilities. They check in to make sure he is taking his meds, take him grocery shopping, help with doing laundry, keep track of medical appointments and provide transportation to them, among other things. I pay his bills out of his Social Security income and obtain and fill out all paperwork associated with his various benefits. I probably do a lot more I’m not even thinking of at the present moment.
It should be noted that no success of his came via luck. It involved tenacity, determination, and years of all kinds of therapy for a five-year-old who, when asked by a doctor, could not say his own name. Whose severe sensory issues precluded going to the grocery store and any other public place because this was a time when no one thought to suggest wearing noise-cancelling headphones. Instead, he shrieked and bolted. The list of his challenges, past and present, is long.
But now the guy safely rides his bike everywhere, up to twenty miles away and back. He handles its maintenance himself. He pushed his bike with its bike trailer attached all the way up a 3600-foot mountain because he was training to climb a 9500-foot one. (And with the accompaniment of my amazing, wildland firefighter sister, he succeeded.)
He takes good care of his cat. He likes to vacuum (read here why this is huge). He refers to his autism as his “difference,” and he has begun to ask me for dating advice and ways to meet “young ladies” who would understand and accept him.
Most importantly, he comes and goes as he pleases. Yes, you read that correctly. He comes and goes as he pleases, and I feel okay about that. I’m no longer frantic at the thought of him out alone in the community. Yes, sometimes I worry – he is vulnerable socially (being taken advantage of) and physically (bike riding in a city – or on a mountain). But from his own apartment he comes and goes as he pleases and I’m not wringing my hands all day long.
I don’t know which is more significant.
He calls them “The Three” – his wallet, keys, and phone. He got tired of hearing me list all three items individually, having to say Yes, yes, yes to each separate inquiry, and he came up with a collective term. So now when I pick him up to come and spend the night at the house or to leave for some other activity, as we head for the door I ask, “Do you have The Three?” And he says Yes, only once, and then we go about the rest of our day, truly blessed, well aware of what The Three symbolize for both of us.