Nov 26, 2012 0 Share

Parenting Outside the Box: Home-Building

Davis, Debra, and dog.
Photo courtesy of Debra Walker

This week’s “Transition from the Trenches” highlights another example of Parenting Outside the Box. Last month, the spotlight was cast on Deborah Barrett who helped her son find employment through the micro-enterprise endeavor, Anthony at Your Service. In addition to employment, a key transition issue is housing. Debra Walker has come up with a creative housing solution for her adult son with autism, Davis. Debra and her husband, Jim Tebay (Davis’s stepfather),  were motivated to find a living arrangement for Davis where there would be better control of outcome for both Davis's quality of life and his independence while using a sustainable model. The group homes which had been considered over the years presented too many compromises to the desired outcomes. A key consideration they sought in the living arrangement was a facility with a viable means to support a person with autism who had a full schedule of work, play, and community involvement, as well as a canine companion.

While many parents find their careers are formed by parenting a child with autism, Debra utilized her professional experience as VP of Health Care Practice at Development Dimensions International (DDI) to implement a housing solution for Davis. In Debra and Jim’s creation of a customized residential solution for Davis, Debra has put to use the practices DDI embodies in the talent management consulting arena. Debra’s story was featured in a DDI publication, in which she explains her intentions for creating a home for Davis: “As he transitioned to adulthood, I wanted to create a home for Davis (and others with autism) in which he could live as independently as possible, where his safety and needs could be met to exacting standards by compassionate and loving staff, and where he could continue to develop and hone new skills and knowledge.”

Davis lives in a private residence that is privately owned by Debra. Eventually, her estate will move the property to a non-revocable estate for Davis. The home is licensed as an independent living facility in the state of North Carolina and operated by a non-profit organization, RHA Health Services, which employs the staff as well as provides administration services such as payroll and state required training. In finding an agency to work with, Debra and Jim conducted their own research based on the agency’s sustainability, their track record in the community, professional administration, and willingness to work with the family to achieve their stated goals. Debra retains control over staff selection and training specific to knowledge of autism and Davis. Pulling from her professional experience, Debra has identified key competencies and attributes she looks for when screening staff applicants: motivational fit for the position, compassion, job experience, work standards, coaching, information monitoring and follow up, collaboration, safety awareness, decision-making, and communication skills.

Davis is employed at a nearby resort and works three days a week. He also volunteers at his church two days a week. Beyond working and volunteering, Davis has responsibilities at his home as well. He is involved in maintenance, cleaning, preparing meals, doing laundry, and caring for his canine companion. Davis is supported by his thoroughly vetted and aptly trained staff throughout the day.

Davis has been living with this custom arrangement for over seven years, and there have been lessons learned along the way. The original arrangement of the home involved another agency and two roommates. (The roommates did not work out.) Changing agencies required reestablishing state licensing, which also impacted funding qualifications. Selecting a roommate is more than just finding adults with ASD. Different care requirements and personal interests have a significant impact on the level of care each resident receives. Davis is more interested in physical activities such as his workouts, hiking and skiing, as well as social interactions outside the home. The family is now looking for another roommate who is more closely aligned with their goals and Davis’s interests. The family receives prospective roommate candidates from RHA, staff, and other networked community organizations. One challenge the family faces when reviewing candidates is being able to fully understand a potential roommate’s needs while navigating the HIPPA privacy rules.

Debra, Jim, and Davis had a clear vision of the type of living arrangement Davis needed. Because the existing solutions required compromises to that vision, they created a solution that checked all the boxes. Davis now has the supports he needs to work, volunteer, socialize, exercise, and care for a canine companion. And those supports meet the exacting standards set forth by the family.

Do you have a creative solution for postsecondary education? Do you know someone that has taken home schooling to the next level? We are looking for education themed examples of Parenting Outside the Box. Please email me if you’d like your story featured in next month’s Parenting Outside the Box.