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May 3, 2012

The Meaning of Life, Love and Spring Fever

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/the_meaning_of_life_love_and_spring_fever_20120503/

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For the past few days, I’ve been noticing symptoms of spring fever almost everywhere.

On Wednesday, I coordinated the first meeting of a Family Advisory Council for a new project at Bet Tzedek Legal Services targeting older adults with developmental disabilities and their family caregivers. While I anticipated that much of the discussion would revolve around such weighty issues as independence vs. safety concerns, it wasn’t long before the discussion turned to marriage, love and sex.

With early intervention, and strong support from their families and professionals, many of the adults with developmental disabilities in their later 20s and 30s have made huge progress in their ability to take care of themselves, hold jobs and have friendships but romance (and let’s face it, sex) remains elusive.

“My 26-year old son really wants a girlfriend,” one mother said, “but just doesn’t know where to start.” Another parent there who had a daughter close in age jokingly said that perhaps they should fix the two of them up. We lightly tossed around the idea of starting a paid, on-line dating service for adults with disabilities to keep our program going after the three-year grant runs out.

Later that day, I went to the latest teen performance of the Vista Inspire program’s theatrical production titled, “It’s a Mad, Mad World of Miracles” which features teens with autism and other disabilities, along with teen and adult volunteers. The overall premise of the musical is that a priceless piece of art titled, “The Meaning of Life” has been stolen from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Teams fan out across the world to find the purloined masterpiece but come back empty-handed. However, in the process of making those sojourns with others, individuals connect in new and unexpected ways, including finding romance in Greece.

And then today, at the Autism Society of Los Angeles conference for parents, professionals and self-advocates on how best to work together for funding and innovation, the best story of the day came from a Mom talking about creating new housing options for adults with autism. When her son with autism was 14 years old, she inherited a sum of money that she used as a down payment for a nearby two-bedroom condo.

At the time, she told her son that the second bedroom could be used for an aide, or perhaps a roommate. The parents rented out the condo, and waited for the son to be ready to move in. When he turned 21, he wasn’t ready to move out, and needed to learn independent living skills such as shopping, cooking and doing laundry. Year by year, he learned more and at age 26, finally moved in. “The second bedroom is now an office,” she said, keeping us all in suspense. “And in the first bedroom, there’s my son with his girlfriend”. The audience roared with approval while she blushed.

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