A milestone in Vista history occurred in late February, when three young men became the first adults to move into a Vista Adult Services home.
Seeing “the guys” relaxing on the sofa, playing board games, or helping to prepare meals in the kitchen of their new home, the scene looks natural enough. Behind the scene, however, the transition entailed a great deal of communication and coordination between Vista School and Vista Adult Services staff.
“There were action steps for everyone,” said Lindsey Stewart, teacher of the two adult residents still attending The Vista School. These steps included:
• Visiting the house during the school day and with families to learn the set-up, expectations for the students, and to help make the new space “home” for the young men.
• Explaining the move to students – preparing them through social stories (words and pictures), or verbally.
• Gradually increasing systematically planned activities, such as going shopping, coming back, preparing lunch, eating, cleaning up, and engaging in leisure activities.
• Providing training to residential staff through detailed lists, task analyses of routines, and videos of how students communicate.
• In the last few days before the move, residential staff visited the school for more training and coordination activities.
“The nature of our population requires us to be as consistent as possible,” Stewart said.
The story of this transition begins almost two years ago, when Vista staff, led by Lisa Pellman, transition coordinator, first asked the parents what they envisioned for their children’s living arrangements beyond the school years.
Until this time, Stewart explained, “All of the parents said their sons and daughters would live at home, because they didn’t know or trust anyone out there. Two years ago, we began to say, ‘What if there was a place just as trustworthy as The Vista School?’”
The answers were “yes” – we’d let them move there.
For the two adult residents still attending The Vista School, “things aligned with timing,” Pellman said. “Austin and Stefan were awarded the funding necessary to access Vista’s adult residential services.” Jennifer Leidy, director of residential services, started in June 2015. “I connected her with the families,” Pellman said.
Vista’s unique approach to residential services means that just because the two students were classmates and needed a house at the same time wasn’t enough of a reason to place the two together in a home. They and their families had to be compatible. Leidy got the families together, and after a few interactions, they appeared to be a good match. The emails started to fly after that.
“There were many sit-down meetings,” Stewart said, in which parents articulated what they hoped the house would be. They said, ‘I don’t want my son staying in the house all day. I want him to go to the park, the pool, the library.’ They want them always working on improving skills,” as well as becoming independent at daily activities and living fulfilling lives.
Stewart and Jenn Muchmore, behavior consultant in the students’ classroom, attended these team meetings. Stewart believes their input as experts on Vista’s students was comforting to parents.
It was an “incredibly emotional” time, she said, but Vista put together a large, multi-disciplinary team to determine and support the best plan for both Austin and Stefan.
“Once the staff was able to get the students out to the home, we were able to work at the school on what they [still] needed to learn,” said MaryLou Miller, career development coordinator. This includes thinking creatively about how to motivate these young adults through suggestions, rather than corrections.
For example, said Lindsay Galbraith, residential supports manager, if a tiny man chooses to buy double-XL shirts, staff can help by offering to find a size that fits, but the purchase is really his choice. Of course, health and safety overrides all other considerations. “If it’s something that will significantly affect their lives or well-being, we can intervene,” Galbraith said.
The staff also learned to be creative about communication that had to go three ways – to school staff, residential staff, and parents. At first, “we had some big chain emails going on,” Galbraith said. But now the team is using other tools.
Galbraith said her staff is working with the classroom team and the Community Integration Center training staff to learn and communicate each resident’s likes and dislikes. “Stefan really likes to sing, sometimes loud! We’re helping the third roommate to understand this is normal.”
Stewart and her classroom team recognize this is a big transition, and they’re prepared to work with their students as they become adjusted to living on their own. “We treat our students like we treat each other,” she said. “If I just had a big change in life, you would notice a difference in me at work.”
On the residential side, Galbraith said her staff is making sure the guys know that everyone is on board, that “everyone is proud of me.”