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Schools & Program Visits - Jun, 1998 Issue #52

INDEPENDENCE CENTER
A Transitional Residence for young adults with learning disabilities
Los Angeles, California
Judith Maizlish, Ex. Director
310-202-7102
Lon's Visit: May 5-6, 1998 

Sitting in the evening meeting of residents, I had two strong impressions! The first was a sense of comfort and support, of young men and women who had found the support and help they needed for getting on with their lives. A sign of this sense of safety was after the conclusion of the meeting, smaller groups developed, earnestly discussing topics that had been brought up during the meeting. 

The other impression is more difficult to express, but I kept coming up with the term wounded. Not wounded in the sense of having had bad things done to them, but wounded from that feeling of failure that comes from an inability to meet their own not unreasonable expectations. These kids ages 18-32 (I know, I know - they are legally adults, but I've survived enough years to have earned the right to call anyone under the age of thirty a kid!) came to Independence Center frustrated, fearful and with negative self-images from watching the world passing them by. 

The meeting I was in was called a Problem Solving Group, and its purpose was for each resident to share recent problems and successes they had. Each presentation was followed by feedback and suggestions from the others, or congratulations if appropriate. It was more a meeting than a psychological group.

As an example of problems, one of the residents shared her difficulties dealing with the development that her younger brother was in a serious relationship. Her problem was that she was yet to have even her first relationship, though she was four years older than he. She was happy for him, and loved him and his girlfriend. But, this was shadowed a little with jealousy, and the not articulated feeling that as the oldest sibling, she had failed in the pioneering, pathfinder role of the oldest sibling showing the way for the younger ones that usually happens in the natural progression of growing into adulthood. The feedback from the group was sympathetic, sensitive, and boiled down to the unfairness to her of comparing her life to anyone else's, even her younger brother's. 

Independence Center has about 25 residents, living in an apartment complex in the West side of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Using an urban apartment complex is a very important part of their goal of mainstreaming their residents. Founded in 1985 by Sandy Gordon, it focuses on young adults with learning disabilities who have been unable to transition from home to living on their own. They screen out those who have drug or alcohol problems, and those with violent tendencies. The Center is not really geared for young adults who are acting out. However, they appear to be quite effective with residents who have been overwhelmed with their learning disability, whether the resident has low, average or high native intelligence, and their program is geared to provide the individual support each individual's needs in the areas of social skills, basic living skills, finding and holding down a job, or further education. 

The residents are able to take full advantage of all the apartment complex facilities which includes a swimming pool, tennis courts, and weight and exercise rooms. In Phase One, the new resident moves into an apartment in the complex, with a matched roommate(s). Although they are now apartment dwellers just like most of their contemporaries back home, their schedules are filled with meetings, individual and group assistance and assignments, and learning independent living skills like communication, socialization, job seeking and appropriate education. Weekend outings are also an important part of their routine, taking advantage of many of the activities around Western Los Angeles. 

Phase Two is reached when the resident is employed and has mastered the basic living and social skills necessary for independent living. This is the transition time in which the resident helps decide which parts of the program should remain mandatory and which can become optional, and is a mark that the resident is definitely on his/her way to personal independence. 

To reach this goal, the average length of stay is two years. However, some take much longer - to the extent they have to even be nudged out of their new nest, and others grasp the necessary skills considerably faster. The commonality is individualized attention to the specific strengths and weaknesses of each resident. 

Copyright 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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