Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Help Yourself

My daughter, Jessica, will be 18 years old this year. This fact snuck up on me and kicked me squarely in the gut. She will no longer be a child, but rather a young adult. Where I once worried exclusively about her health, her education, and her ability to interact with other children, I now must add finding a job, deciding where to live, and most importantly, how to advocate for herself to my list of worries. As I lay awake last night listening to Ashley struggling to feel better and sleep herself, I began to wonder how I can make the transition from being Jessica’s primary advocate to helping her become her own advocate.

In the not too distant future, I want Jessica to be able to make some decisions for herself – decisions I have traditionally made for her. For example, Jessica should be able to make some decisions about her medical care. She should know that she is able to change doctors if she is uncomfortable around one, or find a doctor that is more convenient for her schedule. She should be able to tell another person to back off, leave her alone, or mind their own business. She should be able to speak up for what she likes, what she doesn’t like, what she wants, and what she doesn’t want. She should be able to make choices about her clothes, her hair, and the type of music she enjoys. She should be able to decide how she wants to spend her leisure time or what she wants to eat for dinner. I would really like for her to be able to speak to lawmakers or other agents of change, letting them clearly know how she feels on issues that affect her. I want her to be happy and comfortable in her own skin, and confident to express her opinions. But, I just don’t know how to help her reach that place of advocacy.

I have found a program that is sponsored by the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities. It is called the Youth Leadership Forum, and the following information is from their website:

The YLF-VA program seeks to empower young people with disabilities to further develop their leadership skills. Students, serving as Delegates from communities throughout Virginia, participate in a wide range of activities and learning experiences during the four day Youth Leadership Forum set on a university campus.

The YLF curriculum includes training and development of individual career and life-goals, leadership skills, social skills, and self-esteem. Delegates benefit from sharing the experience of an energetic and socially enriched environment with other delegates, distinguished guests, mentors, and highly motivated volunteer staff.

Program Components:

• Small Working Groups to explore and develop self-awareness profiles, personal leadership goals, career and academic plans.
• Diverse Activities including educational, social, artistic, athletic and recreational events that demonstrate to young people the joy of leading a well-rounded life.
• Guest Speakers and Faculty that address issues such as disability rights laws, innovations in technology, use of assistive technology, employment opportunities, community volunteerism, advocacy and legislative opportunities in the Commonwealth.
• Interaction with Guest speakers and staff-people with disabilities from the private and public sector who have successful careers and/or businesses and who have maximized their talents and serve as role models.
• Field trip to the State Capitol that provides an opportunity to interact with high-level elected officials in Virginia's state government.

Eligible candidates include rising high school juniors and seniors from Virginia who have a disability, are highly motivated, and have demonstrated leadership potential.

Student Delegates are recruited statewide through a competitive application and interview process. Application requirements include written references and in-person interviews. Recruitment strategies incorporate criteria into the student selection process that, while being competitive, enable students to attend the Forum who might otherwise not have the opportunity for leadership development and who demonstrate potential and desire to become future leaders. Recruitment and selection strategies include procedures and outreach that demonstrate full commitment to including students with developmental disabilities as well as other disabilities.

This sounds like something that might help Jessica achieve some self-advocacy skills, and I plan to contact the other members of Jessica’s support team to see what they think. For my readers who have followed my posts about Jessica for some time, what do you think? Have you ever known a young person who has attended this forum or something similar? Do you have other ideas on how to foster self-advocacy?


Marla said...

Sounds like a good idea.

I have these same worries. You are a wonderful mom and I am sure you have prepared her more all ready than you realize.

18 years old! I can't imagine M at that age. You sure do have your hands full.

Jessica looks like a lovely young woman.

Diane J Standiford said...

Sounds like a good program. Children, all children, heck, all people, learn the most by watching others lead the way. She looks up to you---show by doing. Let her witness YOUR advocacy in action, then discuss the results and value. Advocates are everywhere, introduce the benefits of self-advocate. An exciting time for both of you.

mommy~dearest said...

You're making my head spin! I can't think of Jaysen being 18...ever! ;)

I agree with Diane. Let her help you advocate to start. Explain to her why you make the choices you do, and see how you come to those decisions. Maybe give her a few choices, explain their pros and cons, and let her choose- then have her tell you why she made that choice?

Good grief- I will certainly be back to check people's suggestions!

terena said...

It sounds like you've really done your homework. Kudos to you for learning to let go, for allowing your child to become an adult and make decisions for herself. So scary, but I've seen other parents try desperately to hang on, afraid their children will make the "wrong choices," and it always creates trauma. You are giving her the freedom to take more responsibility while always being there for back up and support if she needs it. Seems like the best thing to do is let you know you've always got her back. Isn't that what all children, whether they have disabilities or not, need? The understanding that it's okay to make mistakes sometimes, but your parents are there to lend a hand when you need it.
Good job, Mom.