Plugging the Holes: Taking note of what Matt can—and can’t—do

(2019 Summer Series, Blog #1)

Matt is a 28-year-old man with “classic” autism who has been able to work, communicate with some limitations and enjoy a good game of Uno or Scrabble. We take stock in these and other strengths, including his ability to make most of his meals (in part due to his self-limited menu). And yet, while he’s learned how to peel and cut apple slices (one of two fruits he’ll eat), he’s not able to tell a good apple from a rotten one.

So here’s what Matt can do:

  • Unload the dishwasher, do laundry and clean his home
  • Work three days a week at SMILE Biscotti and volunteer in the community
  • Channel his strong work ethic into his iPad-loaded checklists and structure
  • Participate in regular First Place workouts and yoga sessions
  • Enjoy PAC-MAN, air hockey, Legos and ping-pong with friends at the property
  • Host weekly dinners for neighbors
  • Create his weekly pill boxes
  • Use Alexa Echo to fill his home with music, add items to his shopping list and check the weather so he can lay out his clothes for the next day

In a relatively short time, Matt has learned the value of his apartment key and what to do if he forgets or loses it, the joys of Face Timing with mom and dad, and the creature comforts of his new digs.

And then there’s what he can’t do:

  • Distinguish dirty dishes and clothes from clean ones without visual signs
  • Recognize clean, sanitary practices beyond just going through the motions
  • Acknowledge emergencies (we’re making progress thanks to regular fire drills)
  • Note food expiration dates and what they mean
  • Monitor his cash and debit card
  • Arrange for his own transportation
  • Call the pharmacy for refills

More about Matt is documented in the First Place Interest Survey, reminding us of his interests and those we’d like him to explore, and his Personal Profile, acknowledging areas where he can be independent, needs some support or is totally dependent.

We’re still working on more accurate responses to Matt’s confounding “wh…” questions, thanks to weekly parent training sessions and monthly staff meetings, including those with clinicians from the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC).

But learning to live independently didn’t start here. It started with dedicated First Place staff to build a week in his life, day by day, figuring out how it would all come together. Matt started with just a few pieces of furniture and a few overnights a week at First Place with me sleeping on the couch—listening, lying awake, scribbling notes about Matt’s many needs (OK, and fretting some, too…).

We’ve started this journey grateful that we’re by his side—and that First Place and SARRC are by ours, keeping us all on the right path and feeling more confident in our futures.

Next up, Small Steps and a Big Team: The benefits of high- and low-tech solutions (Summer 2019 Series, Blog #2)

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