Why Bright Futures? .
Early into my 30+ years of professional experience working with disadvantaged children and adolescents I developed the desire to figure out ways to make strategic impacts on their lives, in such a way that the whole trajectory of their development and experiences would be improved. Was I always successful in meeting this goal? Not always… but I have remained fixated on wanting to achieve meaningful, lifelong improvements in my clients’ lives through means that they direct and help to design.
In 2005 I was providing OT services in a therapeutic school for children with autistic disorders, and I overheard a conversation between two mothers who were discussing dread of their children’s graduation special education. They expressed dismay and fear as they faced the loss of the structured and safe school day, as well as the community of educators, therapists, and other parents. They spoke of long waiting lists for housing and day programs, and of how others were being turned away from services. Hearing the conversation made me wonder if many families were in this situation, and if these mothers were accurate in their assessment of the future.
A year later I had joined the faculty at Saint Louis University, and I initiated research to learn about the experiences of young people with disabilities after high school had ended, and those of their parents. I invited Doug Pettinelli, PhD of the SLU Family Counseling Center to partner with me, and together we held three focus groups of parents and young adults with disabilities. These were followed up with individual interview with some of the young adults. Here is what we learned:
- Parents consistently described their experience of transitioning from high school to life after as “like stepping off a cliff”; an abrupt termination of services, supports, and daily routines. (This pattern is also described in studies made in other parts of the U.S., by the way.)
- They reported feeling abandoned and anxious about their children’s future well-being, happiness, and security.
- Many had decreased their own daily activities, both work and leisure, to deal with their adult child’s needs for supervision and to locate and try to secure services.
- Young adults with special needs were offered a very limited array of choices by social service programs, and often were placed on waiting lists that could be weeks, months, or even years long.
- The young adults with disabilities were generally optimistic, and all wanted to enjoy richer, fuller lives that included: continued education, interesting and meaningful work, friends to go places and do things with, and opportunities to engage in typical young adult leisure interests. They all expressed frustration with some or many aspects their current lifestyles.
I knew that there had to be some other ways to approach the urgent, yet not unreasonable or overly- complicated, needs of this group. I wanted to create new, effective solutions to these old problems. The seed for Bright Futures was planted.