I had no idea that becoming a parent at a young age would present so many unpredictable challenges. In my mind, I was pregnant, supported by both families, had graduated high school, was gainfully employed and had absolutely no clue as to how my life was going to shift before it even began. Fast forward to August 1995, my son was born two months early weighing in at a little over 5 pounds. Although he was considered premature, my initial thoughts were, he will be okay, and that’s a normal weight. The doctor never told me what signs to look for as he began to develop. He stayed in the NICU for two weeks, then we checked him out and took him home. The real work began that day. He cried non-stop for 4 months straight and I lost my everlasting mind.
As he began to grow, I noticed that things were not happening as fast as I thought they should. When he was 2 years old, his pediatrician noticed that he wasn’t developing as he should. I thought that my son was too young for his pediatrician to make that determination so I said that we need to give him time. He wasn’t using the bathroom on his own by age 3. By age 4, I enrolled him in pre-k and he was transferred because he still wasn’t using the bathroom on his own. The school started testing him and they noticed that he was not developing academically or socially according to his age. He was transferred again to a school that specialized in teaching students who were intellectually challenged.
As he got older, he made friends and played sports in school, but he was still moving at a slower pace than everyone else. I decided to have him tested at Kennedy Krieger and the doctor said that he was developmentally delayed. I refused to believe it. I had him tested by a special education expert to get a second opinion and the results were the same. At that time, I had to accept that my child had an intellectual disability.
My initial reaction was guilt and disappointment. I brought a child into the world while I was still living with my parents and I had no plan and no money. Then I realized that this was beyond my control and I had to take action.
Once he started middle school, I discovered Abilities Network and I was assigned an advocate who assisted me with team meetings at his school to ensure he was receiving the appropriate accommodations. The advocate also ensured that he received services through the Developmental Disabilities Administration ( DDA). In addition, he received funding for summer camps, special supplies, tutoring, and additional support from his school. He was also moved to a Life Skills program which focused on work force development and independence.
By age 14, he started his first summer job with the school system. During that summer, I taught him how to use public transportation alone to get to and from work. At age 15, he started working at a local supermarket. After graduating from high school, he attended a local community college for two years and secured a part-time position with the school system. Today, at age 22, he is still employed with the school system and at the same local supermarket.
He has an intellectual disability, however; he was still being taught independence. He was still required to maintain a job and go to school. I know that everyone’s situation is different, but I was concerned about how he would be perceived by society and just wanted to share his story to inspire anyone in a similar circumstance. You are not alone! He is a black male with a disability who was raised in a single parent household. He has proven me wrong time and time again. Everyone’s definition of success is different. He is currently managing his savings accounts and expressing interest in moving out on his own. My expectations of him were to go to school, college, and to support himself. Nothing is perfect. We have hit some bumps in the road, but we didn’t give up. As Duane Martin said on the Red Table Talk, the child is the driver, the parent can only help to navigate. Parents, what are your expectations for your children?