Posted in the Daily Free Press, Boston, January 22, 2014
David’s future could have been an easy case.
The 21-year-old from Amherst was never confused about his future. He never decided to veer off his chosen track: to work on cars. He did not gravitate toward an inaccessible or risky career. He had no interest in being an artist, a doctor or an actor. He wanted to work on cars, and his Autism Spectrum Disorder did not have to get in the way of that dream.
David, who chose to partially remain anonymous, is one of many young adults who went through the Massachusetts statewide special education program, which provides specialized curriculum, counselors and activities to students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Beginning in preschool, students meet counselors and advisors that help them learn skills they can use to live independently. Once these young adults approach their graduation date, they begin to discuss placement options with their parents and school counselors in Individualized Transition Planning meetings. These meetings are designed to help students find their places in the world once they leave the public school system, whether that places is in a sheltered workshop, a college environment, a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Independent Living Program (MRC), or at home with Department of Developmental Services checks.
Nonetheless, the funding for and the organization of this program leave many young adults like David with few-to-no options.
Two bills in state legislature may improve conditions for youth with developmental disabilities: The Bridges to Success bill regulates the Individualized Transition Meetings, forcing representatives from whichever adult services agency the student and counselors choose to attend the ITP meetings. This requirement ensures the chosen option for the student is a good fit. It also forces schools to begin ITP meetings at least two years before graduation, so more students avoid the pre-graduation rush that David tried to avoid. Finally, it institutes more community programs for adults with disabilities, so various new graduates can meet and talk to others about how to become self-sufficient.
The second bill, Passage to Independence, provides an extra $23.4 million to the Department of Developmental Services to provide more options for people with developmental disabilities who are transitioning out of the school system.
Both of these bills heard testimony on Nov. 5 and are still awaiting judgment in committee. Many young adults with disabilities from across Massachusetts came to testify on behalf of both bills.