By Beth Land Hecht, LCSW-C
Recently, I did something I never thought possible. My husband and I took a week-long vacation without our adult children.
The weather was amazing, and the beach was beautiful. The trip was nothing short of spectacular, not just because of our destination or our travel companions, but also because of something we were able to leave at home: our son, Daniel.
To clarify, our 30-year-old son is on the autism spectrum, so going away for more than 1 or 2 nights by ourselves has never been an option without the assistance of grandparents. But this year, things changed. Not only did we go away, but Dan was able to remain at home, prepare or heat up pre-made easy meals, travel via Uber to his job, and feed and take out the dog. Our adult daughter, who works full-time, did sleep at our home, but for the most part, Dan remained on his own. It was a huge milestone for him and for us.
It’s been more than 27 years since we first received a diagnosis. Back then, I would have never been able to imagine going on vacation and leaving Daniel at home to fend for himself. After all, some days it was difficult to just leave the house. Life has been a roller coaster much of the time. We’ve had wonderful high points and challenging lows, but through it all I have learned many invaluable lessons, including the need to be flexible, patient, open to change, and to always have faith. I have learned how to be resilient and hopeful during those scary transitions to new schools and programs, to the adult world of employment and personal support services. We found that each success Dan achieved along the way gave us the strength to face the next challenge.
There have been amazing people in our lives throughout this journey (many might not even know the impact they have made). We are blessed to have a wonderful “village” of loving family, friends, synagogue community, and professionals who have touched our lives and shared the ups and downs. In recent years our “village” has expanded to include new friends who are parents of adult children with disabilities. These wonderful folks mentor, support, and guide one another through each phase of this complicated journey. We are there for each other, which makes all the difference as we move forward.
As our family has changed over the last quarter century, so has the autism world. There are more specialized services and programs than ever before, beginning in infancy and extending through adulthood. And yet I recognize that more are needed, especially for adults with disabilities, so that they may live independently with support.
It’s hard to know if our family’s breakthrough moment will mean much to parents who are just starting out on their journey. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re so overwhelmed with your current situation. The bottom line is while there is no “one size fits all” answer to the questions and challenges that await us, it’s important to have hope.
My husband and I are hopeful for another great vacation next summer – just the two of us.
Beth Land Hecht, LCSW-C is Senior Manager of Community Engagement for Jewish Community Services.
JCS Employment Support Services is offering “Shifting from School to Adulthood,” a free series of workshops to help parents and caregivers of children with disabilities navigate the transition. In conjunction with Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), the sessions take place each Thursday in February, 1:00 – 2:30 pm at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, 5700 Park Heights Avenue. For more information and to RSVP: 410-843-7353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.