What’s next? Special needs kids face gap in Cowichan

Sandra Anderson said that she’s upset that her son, Kody, has seen his life change from busy to barren just because he’s turned 19.

A Valley mom, who is seeing her son caught in a no man’s land between high school and adulthood is hoping for more programs to help young people with special needs.

Sandra Anderson said that she’s upset that her son, Kody, has seen his life change from busy to barren just because he’s turned 19.

Kody has Down Syndrome and is developmentally aged eight to 10, she said.

“He is very delayed; he could never be left on his own; he has lots of needs.”

But the active young man still has a great zest for life, according to his mom.

She described a typical day in the past school year.

“He’d get up and take the bus to Cow High where he’d be in school all day. They’d swim, do very active recycling, wood work, P.E., things like that. Then, after school, he’d get on the bus and go over to the Clements Centre for their after-school program. He’d do that until 5:30 p.m. in the evening four days a week. Some days he would go from there and he would either go to bowling or other sports with Special Olympics. Then he’d come home.”

“He was very, very busy, very much in the community. Everybody knows him. He’s a very happy little guy,” she said.

There are programs available through places like the Clements Centre and Providence Farm that offer a variety of activities from working in a kitchen to gardening, and fun like bowling and yoga.

But some aren’t really appropriate and the others are full, according to Anderson.

It’s hard, she said, because she is hoping that Kody can get into something that fits his needs.

“He’s 19, he’s young, still learning and growing, he enjoys physical activities.”

She is dealing with the Cowichan Valley Association for Community Living now to help the family transition Kody into adulthood.

“We’ve had our meeting and he qualified. We got told first that there was a six hour-a-week opening for us at Lunch on Clements. Most people in programs go about 30 hours a week. Five hours a day is a good chunk; I would be really happy with that. But we were given six hours, broken down into two three-hour portions.”

Parents of children with special needs value that respite, she said.

“It’s a lot of work having a kid who has many medical needs. He lives at home. We don’t want to put him in care. I know that’s what a lot of parents choose. But that’s not what we want for Kody. But, I still need a break,” she said.

That six hours at the Clements Centre involved cooking food. He tried it and then Lunch on Clements informed her that Kody had some issues that meant he couldn’t work in the kitchen.

“I was totally heartbroken because Kody’s passion is in the kitchen. In the after school program he’d go shopping and cook dinners with a worker. They said they were taking back that referral and now we’re stuck. He had a very active life and now he has nothing. I put in an appeal through Community Living; they have a process you have to go through. I have not heard anything back yet,” Anderson said.

Although the Clements Centre is making an effort to do something for her son, Anderson said she needs to wait until she hears from Community Living officially before moving forward, because they are the ones that actually assign spaces and make the rules.

She’s also concerned that the Cowichan Valley needs more options for young adults with special needs because Kody is not the only young person who’s waiting for space.

“There’s a problem here. At this point there are 18 other kids that have nowhere to go. We’re also seeking community partners to build a program; we’re going to Community Living with an idea. We’ve also met twice with [Cowichan Valley MLA] Bill Routley, and he’s totally 100 per cent behind us. He also said it might be time to go to the media. It’s time to get it out there because it’s not just about Kody. There are lots of people affected,” Anderson said.

“Older people sometimes benefit from having younger ones around but I think there need to be programs for ages 19-30, 30-70 and then something for the elderly. It’s hard but all the programs are like this: once you hit 19, you can stay in there forever. I’ve found a community partner for my idea, we’ve put a program idea together. Bill Routley thinks it’s awesome but even if we get it, that program might only help 12 kids in the first year. There are 18 waiting and there are more coming. The Cowichan Valley has a huge number of people with special needs. This needs some push to get somewhere.”