Conquering Life’s “Everest”: Adulthood for People with Disabilities
The importance of social support and funding when transitioning to adulthood with a disability
I can remember the day I moved to a new city for my first year of university. It was my first time living with roommates, paying rent, buying my own groceries and trying to cook something other than KD or instant noodles! It was exciting to finally have opportunities to be independent, start my university degree, meet new people, and begin my journey into adulthood. It was a positive experience for me, but not everyone has such a smooth transition into adult life as I did. This is especially true for people with disabilities, who often have to navigate new environments with limited guidance, who may feel pressure to be independent, and who lack the resources and supports needed to prepare or make transitions to adulthood (CanChild, 2018).
But with a little help from our friends (as the Beatles would say), having a support network of family, friends, community, etc. is important for people with disabilities in their transition to adulthood (CanChild, 2018). A support network provides guidance in decision making, while respecting a people’s with disabilities strengths and capacities (Wynn et al., 2006).
The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of people with disabilities (and their families) as they transitioned into adulthood. A major (though preliminary) finding from my one-on-one interviews centered around the type and quality of support. Participants who experienced fewer forms and lower levels of support had more challenging experiences. Macy*, a sister to a male with autism explained, “He graduated and that was it. Like best of luck in the world. There were no supports.” Another participant, Tara*, diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay and suspected Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is now homeless after facing many “hurdles” in accessing supports. Her independent facilitator explained she had an “unsupportive” home life, peer relationships, and school environments. She faces challenges with the “huge gap” in mental health supports that are not funded and has been waiting for subsidized housing for almost 3 years now.
In contrast, participants who had multiple forms and high levels of support explained their transition experiences as more positive. Sarah*, who has a physical disability, explained, “I have PSWs (personal support workers) 24/7… I get to pick my work hours...I have the holy grail because A) I am very supported by my parents, and B) we have money.” Julia*, a mother of a son with cerebral palsy, concurred, “Increased funding and increased supports has had a massive effect on [my son’s] quality of life…. As he gets more support, I am less burdened”.
Support is integral in the transition process for people with disabilities! It is important for families and their communities to foster connection building throughout their children’s lives. That way - in adult life - they have an established and reliable network to reach out to.
We, whether disabled or not, need to include people with disabilities in our communities. What are some ways you can advocate and spread awareness? Do you know what resources are in your own community? If you want to know more about transition services in KW, you can contact Bridges to Belonging or Waterloo Region Family Network, for support. For more information please contact Emily: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of participants
CanChild. (2018). Transitions. Retrieved from https://www.canchild.ca/en/research-in-practice/transitions
Wynn, K., Stewart, D., Law, M., BurkeGaffney, J., & Moning, T. (2006). Creating connections: A community capacity-building project with parents and youth with disabilities in transition to adulthood. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 26(4), 89-103.