In my job as Communications Manager for the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities (Stark DD), I go out and speak to people in our community. I teach about people with disabilities and how the 450 employees at Stark DD help more than 3,900 children and adults living in Stark County.
Then I tell listeners that my 20-year-old son, Adam, is one of those 3,900 people.
When Adam was born in 2000, we had no idea the journey we would travel. Within the first six months of his life, Adam endured three surgeries, including repairing a rare heart defect and jaw distraction surgery, followed by post-surgical drug induced comas. We almost lost him three times.
As the medical fog began to lift, our family practitioner said Adam wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones and referred us to Stark County Early Intervention. While the medical trauma did cause some setbacks, there was actually much more going on.
After two rounds of genetics testing, we still have no clear diagnosis other than developmental disabilities. Instead, Adam has a long list of surgeries, conditions like Pierre Robin Syndrome, epilepsy and abdominal migraines, an alphabet soup of letters like ADHD and OCD, and a handful of daily medications to keep these conditions in check.
In school, Adam attended a combination of special education classes and a few general education classes with his typical peers. Adapted curriculum goals were in place when needed. He graduated from high school at 18, even though he could have stayed until age 22. Adam knew his peers were graduating, and he said he wanted to be like them. When he crossed the stage to get his diploma, it sounded like there was more than just our family clapping for him. The support was loud; the Class of 2019 cheered his accomplishment.
While Adam still has problems adding various coins correctly, he loves working on his computer and iPad. He is currently learning advanced graphic design software, and blowing through our color ink cartridges to see his creations.
Post-graduation came with tough transitions. The school bus didn’t come to pick him up anymore, and many of his peers went off to college. The high hopes of getting a job quickly fell as job applications went unanswered. Instead, Adam enrolled in a day program for adults with disabilities. Operated by a community provider, Adam attended five days a week and developed more job skills, practiced advocating for himself and went on outings in the Stark community.
Surprisingly, during the pandemic, Adam found a job in a small, family-owned restaurant. As a greeter, busser and assistant dishwasher, Adam found his niche. He thrived in the structure and, not a surprise, was compulsive about wearing a mask and washing his hands. He joked with his co-workers, mingled with the customers, made some mistakes and learned from them. Unfortunately, like many in the food industry this year, the restaurant closed in December and Adam’s job was over. We are back to hoping for that next job and keeping busy.
Adam does not typically watch much television; if he does, it is shows on Disney Junior while he’s doing something else. However, once COVID-19 started to rage outside, our family started watching more television, especially movies. It seems like every time we turn the channel, we end up watching “Wonder” or “Forrest Gump”… and these have caught Adam’s attention.
After watching them several times, he is starting to ask questions about Auggie and Forrest. Adam is noticing the families and friends who play important roles in their lives, and we talk about how Auggie and Forrest deal with the many challenges thrown in their way.
One scene in Forrest Gump always hits home. Forrest is sitting bedside with his Momma, and she tells him she is dying from cancer. Forrest asks, “What’s my destiny, Momma?” She explains, “You have to do the best with what God gave you.”
Just like Auggie and Forrest, Adam wants to do the best with what talents and abilities God gave him. The rest of us need to be aware and help him find opportunities.
To help raise awareness, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March to be National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. The proclamation said that Americans should provide the “encouragement and opportunities” necessary for people with developmental disabilities to reach their potential. In other words, help them find their destiny.
At Stark DD, we believe that if you get to know someone’s story, you can help a person find their destiny. Auggie’s classmates got to know him; the people on the park bench listened to Forrest’s story.
#DDAwareness2021 #KnowMeStark #WeAreHere