Thursday, July 17, 2008

Self-Direction and the Transition to Adulthood

My son Andrew enters his senior year in high school this September and turns 18 in October. People who don’t know us well ask, “What’s he going to do after high school?” Well, for now, we are focused on an academic graduation degree, which means he has to pass his state standardized exams. He is also enhancing his independent living skills, being introduced to possible job areas, and possibly earning his driver’s license. These are major goals for the coming ten months. Andrew’s life post-high school will be influenced by his success with these high school areas.

CHADD is recognized and financed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the National Resource Center on AD/HD (NRC). On July 16, we produced our quarterly free electronic newsletter, “NRC News,” and this one focused on “The Next Step—From School to the Workplace.” The newsletter is posted on the NRC Web site. The newsletter makes two significant points that we can affirm in our family:
• “Transitioning from the world of school to the world of work can be a trying time.”
• “Preparing for the transition from school to work is a long term process that starts while you are in high school.”

This summer, for six weeks, Andrew is enrolled in a high school program where for a few hours each morning they focus on the standardized state education exam material. Each afternoon they are assigned to job sites to be exposed to job skills and demands, in order to determine where they have interests and abilities. They live in a group house to enhance their independence and social skills, and they get lots of off-campus trips. For example, there are two minor league baseball clubs near campus, and my baseball-fan son loves going to the game to end a day.

The University of Pennsylvania Collaborative on Community Integration for persons with serious mental illness, with funding from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and in collaboration with the Bazelon Center on Mental Health Law, has just published In The Driver’s Seat: A Guide to Self-Directed Mental Health Care. This is a 40-page guide to help adult clients of the nation’s public mental health system design and help implement their own plans of support. The report contains principles and approaches that should assist all persons with disabilities coping with independence.

A “self-directed” care plan concentrates on “recovery” and builds on an individual’s strengths and skills. With the help of facilitators, participants in self-directed care programs develop life/recovery plans that identify their personal goals, identify the barriers to their achieving these goals, and outline the steps and resources needed to implement the plans. Public mental health programs in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, and Oregon are implementing self-directed plan programs and the guide reviews these and other similar public programs.

The guide briefly discusses the question of an individual’s “capacity” to participate in self-directed care at any given time. This is a complex question, frequently made more complex by an individual’s anxiety, low self-esteem and low self-expectations, and sometimes a sense of helplessness. These challenges can be overcome.

Andrew, his parents, and an estate attorney specializing in disability issues now are discussing not only estate issues, but issues of targeted and focused power of attorney. We are trying to collectively identify areas in which Andrew will probably need some support and backup when he turns the magic age of 18, and we hope to create a system to have in place if a crisis hits. “This ain’t easy,” but it is important to discuss as we transition to the next stage in Andrew’s life.

For two years I have been thinking off and on about how the mental health concept of “recovery,” the fundamental principle in reforming the nation’s mental health system, applies to AD/HD and to my son with special needs. See my May 6 blog, “Recovery, Hope, and Self-Esteem” for my initial personal thoughts. A lot more thinking, research and personal experience need to enlighten this topic.

Good luck as you and your family work through these difficult transitions.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Preparing for the transition from school to work is a long term process that starts while you are in high school.

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