The transition to adulthood, with the help of an expanded family.
One of the most difficult periods facing parents of children with disabilities is the transition to 22, when an individual moves from youth to adult services. When Lauren’s son, Eric, who has autism, is non-verbal, and needs care 24/7, was approaching his 22nd birthday, she needed a new residential option – and she needed it fast. Eric was graduating from a residential school where he lived in a group home, and Lauren wanted to move him into a more comfortable, intimate, and safe environment suited for Eric’s gentle and loving nature.
Lauren got in touch with Jeff Keilson, Senior Vice President at Advocates, who suggested Shared Living. Lauren then learned more from Advocates’ Shared Living Director Greg Treadwell, and became open to the idea. But they had to work quickly. “Greg worked tirelessly – we were down to the wire,” says Lauren. “We all wanted this to work.”
Greg connected Lauren and Eric to Marthe and Wilbert Vilchert, a couple which has worked with Advocates for many years, has provided for someone through Shared Living before, and has experience with individuals with autism. Within a few short months, the Vilcherts had moved to a new home to be closer to Eric’s day program, and Lauren spent several days setting up Eric’s new bedroom. “That’s the beauty of Shared Living,” she says. “He has a comfortable big bed. He has all his books, CDs, his computer.” Lauren says Eric didn’t get the attention he needed in the group home, but now, with the Vilcherts, he’s number one.
Marthe says she and Wilbert think of Eric, who is the same age as their daughter, as their own son. “He is so sweet, and so fun to work with. When he puts his head on your shoulder, you feel like you’re really doing something.”
Eric joins in on all the family activities, too. They go to movies, the park, shopping, and more. On weekends, Eric often visits one of his parents for a couple of days, but sometimes, he stays home with the Vilcherts. “When he’s gone, we miss him and he misses us,” Marthe says.
The two families are in constant communication about Eric’s needs, whether it’s getting to doctor’s appointments, or buying new clothes or educational materials. “There is such an improvement in the level of care,” Lauren says. “He’s no longer frustrated or being ignored. [The Vilcherts] are so protective of Eric, as if he is their own. It’s been an extremely positive experience.”
Lauren also credits the smooth transition in part to people like Greg Treadwell, who she says really cares about the families. “The thing about Advocates is that they listen. They listen to the parents about their needs for their child, and their vision.”