*Encouragement is the best medicine to give someone. If I were to pick any gift to have in helping others, that would be the one*

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guest Post By Kathleen Deyer Bolduc

Author of:
Autism & Alleluias
Kathleen Deyer Bolduc


Why am I continually broadsided by the wideness of God’s grace? You’d think that I’d be used to it by now.

But no. God’s grace bowls me over, again and again. A perfect strike, it hits me in the solar plexus and down I go, unable to get up until my jellified legs allow me to walk normally again.

It happened yesterday, in the middle of Joel’s transition meeting. Our son Joel, age 25, who has autism and a moderate intellectual disability, is moving in May from our house to Safe Haven Farms, a “community of choice for adults with autism” (www.safehavenfarms.org ). Ten of us sat around a table in the newly renovated farm house, which serves as office space. My husband Wally, son Joel, and I were joined by Ashley, the farm’s director; Andrea, Joel’s current service facilitator; Jennifer, his new service facilitator (this move involves a change of counties, which involves, as you can imagine, a ton of paperwork); Abbey, the farm’s director of day services; Susan, home manager; Lisa, Joel’s case worker from his current job placement; and Rhonda, the job coach Joel has been with for the past three years.

Rhonda was the person at that table who, besides Wally and I, knows Joel best. Instrumental in Joel’s successful transition (four years ago) from school to work, she is funny, firm, unflappable, creative, energetic, and extremely capable. Of all the professionals that have worked with Joel over the years, Rhonda is one of the shining stars. Joel’s school/work transition started out as a complete disaster, with the initial agency we had chosen to go with turning out to be incapable of handling Joel’s behaviors—behaviors that were exacerbated by his anxiety over the transition. You’d think an agency who deals with autism would know that transition is difficult, and that you have to be creative in smoothing out the rough places. For six weeks we received daily phone calls about hairpulling, wandering, cussing, and a myriad of other complaints. They were not open to our suggestions. We pulled Joel out of the program.

Enter Beckman Adult Center , a workshop run by our county board of developmental disabilities. It was our “last choice” among several options, mainly because the client/staff ratio was not high enough. At that time, Joel required 1:1 support. Joel was assigned to Rhonda and Julius, a dynamic duo. After reading Joel’s files and meeting with us, it was quickly determined that Joel needed a slow and easy transition. An hour the first day, two hours the next, half days for a couple of weeks, etc. He was also allowed to begin his work in a room with only one other client. Rhonda set the room up with a treadmill for times of anxiety, a computer for break times, huge maps on the wall to provide conversation, photo albums for Joel to peruse during breaks. But Rhonda’s greatest offering was her upbeat attitude, her intuitive grasp of what Joel needed to succeed, her openness to Joel’s gifts, and her unstoppable optimism and energy. Within weeks Joel was working, independently at times. Within months several other clients moved into his room, changing the client/staff ratio from 1:1 to 4:1. Joel handled the changes magnificently.

As we sat around the table at Safe Haven Farms yesterday, Joel sat a little apart in a lazy-boy rocker, where he could be a part of what was going on without being overwhelmed by nine warm bodies, several of them strangers to him. We listened to Rhonda’s input as to what it would take to make this a successful transition for Joel. “Expect to walk a lot,” she said. “Keep him busy. He’s a busy guy. He needs to move. Talk to him. He has a lot to offer to a conversation. He’s interesting! He loves to sing and dance. He loves J.T. (James Taylor). Just make sure he has his JT.”
I looked over at Joel, who was uncharacteristically kicked back and relaxed, his Cincinnati Red’s cap pulled down over his brow, his face wreathed in smiles. This was his good friend, Rhonda, talking about him. Telling everyone what a great guy he was. They’ve been through it all together—good days, bad days. Days with lots of work, days with no work. Days that they walked until their feet hurt. Days that he was to work semi-independently.
That’s when it happened. A geyser of joy, totally unexpected, shot up from the center of my chest, nearly knocking me out of my chair.
How wide is God’s mercy! How grace-filled my life. How blessed Joel’s life.

Yes, this transition is going to be difficult. All transitions are tricky when you’re dealing with autism. But just as God gifted us with Rhonda, God will bring another person alongside Joel. Someone to discover his gifts and pull them out. Someone smart enough to listen to and learn from those who know Joel well, and intuitive enough to “know” what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to anxiety and the behaviors that accompany it.

Rhonda, I want more than anything to take you with us to Safe Haven Farms! To steal you away from the city and plant you in the middle of that beautiful farm land. I know you’re needed where you are, though, and cloning is still the stuff of science fiction. But I do know this, and I hope you know it as well:

You are the personification of God’s grace in our lives.

We will never forget you.


j said...


Cheryl D. said...

Come to my site for a surprise!

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