Personal Story

Impact Feature Issue on Supporting Success in School and Beyond for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Our Wonderful, Complex Son Keith

“Mom, the microwave is on fire,” called Keith’s younger brother, Alex, with more amazement in his voice than panic. Keith had set two steel wool pads ablaze with a simple push of the one-minute button. After extracting the flaming pads with ice tongs and tossing them into the kitchen sink, I reminded myself that life with Keith was never boring. But this constant need for hyper vigilance was nerve wracking, exhausting, and becoming increasingly challenging as Keith, our wonderful, complex, son with Autism Spectrum Disorder, grew older.

I’m here to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. More than 10 years have passed since the microwave incident. Keith is 23 years old. When he was 17, we received word from Keith’s developmental disabilities worker that there was an opening at a group home 20 minutes away from our house. My husband and I thought we might start looking at some group homes when Keith was 18-21 years old. We assumed it would be an arduous process. As good fortune would have it, we liked the group home and the people involved with it. We decided to give it a try, and Keith has lived there for the past six years. Over the years we have seen him mature and become increasingly more independent in his self-care skills.

Keith was able to continue in his high school through age 21. He is the youngest “consumer” in his home. While the other folks went to their jobs, Keith would get picked up for school. During his last two years at high school, we attended information sessions on jobs and toured several recommended workplaces. After he graduated, Keith was able to start work at a training services center, where he continues to work today doing a variety of supervised jobs and enjoying the various opportunities for community experiences and recreation the program provides.

Keith is not on the high-functioning end of the Autism spectrum. He speaks in one to two word utterances and follows simple routines and directions. Activities that require using both hands together in an integrated way are difficult for him. Writing, dressing with ties and fasteners, and using utensils and tools are extremely challenging tasks. Nevertheless there are a number of tasks Keith can do with supervision. It is reassuring to know that he is able to be productive and active as a young adult in a workplace with experienced, caring staff.

We recently attended an annual review of Keith’s progress. His meeting was coordinated with family, group home staff, work staff, and county staff. Although he is a vulnerable adult, (and yes, he still likes a good fire in the grill or fireplace), Keith continues to make gains, learn new skills, and bring joy to those who love and care about him.

Contributed by Keith’s mom, Linda Kennedy, Roseville, Minnesota.