Kin Counts stands behind her son, Kendrick. “He’s my perfectly imperfect child.”
Every parent-to-be dreams of their child’s future. Perhaps she’ll grow up to be an Olympic soccer player, or he’ll learn to play the violin like Itzhak Perlman. You dream of the perfect child. But for many parents, those dreams are dashed when their child is born with a developmental delay or disability.
“It’s hard,” said Kin Counts, “It’s very hard.” Counts knows first-hand. Her son, Kendrick, has autism.
“You grieve,” said Counts. “You mourn for [the loss of] the perfect child. You go through the process of asking yourself, ‘Why me?’ and, ‘What did I do wrong?’”
Counts advises parents who receive a diagnosis to go through what she calls the grieving process. “Cry. You have to let it out. You lost that ‘perfect’ child.’” Later, you learn to accept the reality.
“Once you accept, a door opens,” said Counts. “There is a feeling of relief and everything is so much easier. You say to yourself, ‘Now I’m ready,’ and when you’re ready, call DDD.”
The Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) empowers individuals with developmental disabilities to lead self-directed, healthy and meaningful lives. Count’s son first joined DDD through its Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP), which provides services and supports for children from birth to three years of age. When Kendrick became old enough, he transitioned to services offered by DDD for members over the age of 3.
Kendrick, now age 15, receives habilitation services (teaches life skills, such as personal hygiene), speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Soon, Kendrick will start a new program: Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS).
Pre-ETS is a program that is offered in collaboration with the Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services (DERS). The Pre-ETS program helps students with disabilities prepare for future employment through a series of workshops that provide job exploration counseling, work-based learning and other work readiness training. The program is available to youth with any kind of disability who are between the ages of 14 and 22. Group workshops make up the majority of the program. However, customized one-on-one workshops will be made available for those who qualify, such as Kendrick, who uses an augmentative communications device.
“The new Pre-ETS program is a requirement under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. It is also in alignment with Governor Ducey’s Employment First policy.” The Employment First initiative was established by executive order to expand career opportunities for all Arizonans.
The job exploration workshop is of particular interest to the Counts family. “Career exploration is a huge thing to me,” said Counts. Career exploration allows individuals to learn which occupations best fit their unique skills and interests.
When Kendrick turns 16 in a few months, he will also have the option of exploring other DES employment programs, such as DDD’s Transition to Employment (TTE) program. TTE assists members by developing positive work habits, attitudes, skills and work etiquette. The TTE program provides instruction, training and support for DDD members to develop abilities, skills and behaviors that will enable them to most fully realize his/her vocational aspirations, including supporting the transition into a more independent employment setting.
Thanks to his parents’ acceptance and devotion, and with supports and services provided by DES, Kendrick is poised to live a fulfilling, perfectly imperfect life.
By Lyn Riley