I am the mother of twin girls with autism. Our family has searched out the resources that are most appropriate for each child. The twins are now 26; no longer children but adults. Millie is the oldest (by four minutes) and has been involved with CHOICE Inc., a day training and habilitation program in Eden Prairie, for the past five years.
Some say day training and habilitation programs might not be all that necessary, or that they should simply act as a job placement agencies to get people with disabilities employed. I feel a need to speak out. From my point of view, these programs are invaluable in coaching the whole person.
I want Millie to not only survive in a job but to also be self-sufficient in many aspects of her life. Who can teach her these skills? Can the day training, non-profit in my community be concerned about the whole person?
Millie’s sister, Dayna, has severe autism that requires our full attention to meet her needs. Since she requires almost constant redirection and supervision, Millie received less attention from us. She did not get consistent parental reinforcement, direction, and support. She often had to wait to receive our help or attention. By the time she was a young adult, she was unsure of herself, lacking in confidence and initiative. The CHOICE Inc., environment brought a needed positive change for her.
At CHOICE she was guided, supported and challenged in multiple ways to move into adulthood. Millie applied and
was accepted into the Partners in Policymaking program to learn to advocate for herself. For the first time, she stayed in a hotel room without her family. She tasted a new freedom. At the end of the program, she was interviewed by a reporter and her story was published in several community newspapers.
CHOICE encouraged her to join Toastmasters and again more comfort with public speaking. It also helped her to find wider options for her personal time. She took up bowling and attended an advocacy conference. As counselors and advisors, they continued to look for fitting and safe opportunities for Millie to grow and to be challenged.
In considering career options, her initial interest was in child care, but the CHOICE job coach found that the job she desired required a four year college degree. When the staff at CHOICE gave Millie leadership responsibilities with her peers, she realized she could also enjoy the challenge of working with adults.
As she began a job search, Millie was urged to apply for work at a restaurant, and she was accepted at Culver’s. As she became more comfortable with the employment setting, she received training and support as a cashier and now work the drive-through. Her successful experiences with a variety of people prepare her to take on the responsibilities of serving the public.
CHOICE did not stop after getting Millie settled in that job. They kept asking her about her dreams. With a goal of moving away from home, she was introduced to some options for a new living situation. CHOICE helped her prepare for the responsibility of living on her own, from advocacy skills to healthy eating and exercise.
Each morning participants are waiting to make their connecting rides to work. Millie and a small group meet at the table every morning and have established themselves as the “Breakfast Club” They discuss work and life in general. Once Millie moved into her own apartment she hosted a “Breakfast Club” get together to celebrate her independence.
In a next step towards independence, Millie has started to consider getting her driver’s license. Her CHOICE van driver started working with her during travel times to be an active passenger. They review rules of the road and the safety requirements for driving. They identify landmarks and directions to where they are going.
Millie is now able to embrace most change. She is willing to mingle and engage in conversation with the people she meets. It has been astounding to see her blossom and come into her own. CHOICE has mentored her the whole way providing choices, feedback and supports that foster self-confidence and measured courage. Millie is open to trying new things and to the excitement of making a life of her own.
Thanks to CHOICE Inc., for seeing the whole person and not limiting themselves to only “finding Millie a job.” They have carefully nurtured the skills within Millie that will last a lifetime.
-Sue Cell and her family live in Richfield