Aging out at 18

I emailed a friend in Toronto and mentioned we were heading to Wisconsin to visit our son Gus in his group home. My friend wrote back and said:

I was going to write you about this when I heard it. It was an episode of This American Life — love that show. Anyhow, there was an episode that aired first on September 15, 2006, #317, called Unconditional Love that featured in Act 2, Dave Royko’s story about his son Ben and a decision whether to move Ben into a home in Wisconsin. Ben was a child with autism and this story was about the decision. Have you ever heard of this family and is it the same home where Gus now resides?

Ben doesn’t live in the same group home where Gus lives, but as it happens, I have heard of this family: Patricia Wright wrote a blog post here about them after the Chicago Tribune published an essay David Royko wrote when he and his wife decided to send their 12-year-old son Ben to the Oconomowoc Developmental Training Center (ODTC) in Wisconsin. Ben turned 18 this summer and aged out of the ODTC. In a recent blog post on his own site, David describes his feelings about this next move for their son:

ODTC was the perfect place for Ben and for us, with good programming and a staff that was consistently caring, warm, compassionate, and most importantly, really “got” Ben, and enjoyed him. They were his surrogate parents, and we felt fortunate every weekend when we headed back home knowing Ben was with them.

David Royko’s blog post about Ben’s move to the Monarch School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, includes email updates from staff at Ben’s new school. Those of you facing a new transition with a child who has autism might find these updates helpful. The post ends like this:

So, overall, given the expected ups and downs, Ben is adjusting. We’ll be heading out tomorrow for our second visit. This past weekend felt almost surreal, the first time in five years that both Karen and I were home all weekend without going to see Ben. And we wondered: What was it like for him?

If you’re like me, and you missed the This American Life radio essay about Ben’s original transition from his home in the Chicago suburbs to the facility in Wisconsin, you can still hear it online. Thanks to the recommendation from my friend in Toronto, I’m going to sit down and give it a listen right now.


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