Last week I had the good fortune to meet a dear friend for lunch (Indian food, my fave!) in a town halfway for both of us, which means a good forty-five minute drive for each. I am compulsively early to things (my mom is too, I come by it honestly), so of course after running errands I managed to get to the strip mall twenty minutes early. As I drove in I happened to look up to my left at the first building in the lineup (hoping I could compensate my compulsion with some shopping) and saw in big letters the sign “Disability Allies,” and knew I’d found a place to kill some time with a purpose.

I knew with a little luck I’d get my first tour of a day program for autistic adults.

Justin is just about to turn seventeen, so even though I’m a planner extraordinaire I will not start formally looking for about another three years. I thought to myself however that I could go in and try to talk to someone and most likely get turned away, or perhaps I could charm my way into an impromptu tour.

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Lucky for me, the latter transpired.

I had a fifteen minute conversation with the director, Audrey, who told me all about her adult child who attended this day program (a plus in my book), how they were relatively new, and her dreams for the place. She could not have been lovelier, taking time out of her day for a fellow special needs parent who was most likely not going to send her child here due to distance, but wanted to “host” her anyway.

We had a lovely chat, and then I got the tour.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d never visited a day program before. Quite honestly I’ve been told by friends whose kids are in their twenties that my expectations should center around keeping him “happy and safe,” which has never exactly seemed like a rousing endorsement to me. I’ve kept those two goals in mind (including “clean”) and hoped frankly I wouldn’t walk out of these centers depressed that there is nothing out there which will ever come close to his amazing autism school where he’s been for ten years.

Honestly, nothing will ever come close to his amazing autism school.

The truth is however a day program he must one day attend, and I am devoted to finding one that’s a good fit for him, where he gets out into the community frequently, has some fun, and yes, is happy and safe.

After my brief tour I will tell you I have a lot more hope that I can accomplish this goal.

We began in a large, organized and well-lit room where several instructors were working with the disabled adults on theater. We then progressed into a clean kitchen where several other adults were whipping up something delicious (if it wasn’t for the forthcoming Indian food I would have been jealous), an activity which they do several times per week. We finished the tour by ending up in a conference room where the adults were working on life skills such as creating budgets and goals for their future.

In each room, every client looked happy.

Do I think Justin would get anything out of a program like this? No, I don’t. I will be looking for something with daily outings, access to computers and DVDs, maybe even a heated pool if possible. I know my boy’s likes and dislikes and his ability level, and this program would never match them.

But still, on a whim I got to see a place that was clean, and where the participants were happy and safe. I got to meet a director impassioned to deliver excellent services to her charges, who was excited about all the things she hoped to bring to her program in the years to come.

In one day I got chicken tikka masala and hope.

A good day for all.

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