David Furgeson retraces his path in the hallway of the Developmental Activity Program (DAP), walking from the front entrance to the activity area and back again many times a day. He checks into some of the rooms along his way and stops occasionally to smile at a passerby.
David’s key worker, Wendy Kosolofski, accompanies him on his weekly job rounds. The two have been working together for several years and have a close relationship. Wendy is proud of the progress David has made at work and David has come to trust her and rely on her support. When Wendy is busy at DAP, David makes certain to keep her in view and if that is not possible, he will wander the building searching for her until he knows where she is.
David’s mother, Gail Furgeson, is the Chairperson of the Association. She says it was a long, hard decision but the Furgesons decided that at fifteen, when David entered high school, he was ready to move to a group home full time. “It got him out with other people his own age and that was a good thing.” Many community connections were made that way. Myriam Uribe, Supervisor at the 109th Ave group home describes David as the “big brother” there, often coming out from his room to check on what is going on if he hears anyone upset.
A great result of having David live in the group home is that he has become much more independent. “Parents can help children develop toward independence but only to a certain point, at which the tendency to protect overrides the desire to inspire independence.”
Gail says that it is great to discover what David is capable of if given the chance. “Still, at twenty five years old, he still does not understand that it is not safe to walk in front of a car. So he can do a lot of things, but cannot go out by himself into public places. At the same time it is best for him to get out among other people because that is the only way he will learn to socialize and get along.”
David was diagnosed with autism at the age of seven. But in the years prior, he was not treated as someone with a disability. There was no one in the family like him, so they really did not know where they were going with his differences. He didn’t act like other children and they did not realize how profoundly different he was until he was about seven years old and was not speaking.
David had difficulty expressing himself but was always very much aware of his surroundings. “He understands more than you would realize, “ Gail says. “For the most part, he is easy to get along with but is still capable of having a temper and getting agitated.”
Even though David has problems in some areas, he has aspects of typical development that are nice to see from Gail’s point of view. He seems to live in two places at one time. “The world, being as noisy as it is, is difficult for David to deal with.” Gail says he gets overwhelmed and has to shut everything out rather than being able to selectively shut out the annoying parts. In the absence of input, he resorts to other behaviours.
Integration into the public system worked well for David for the most part in his early school years. He was the “belle of the ball” in fourth grade at Alexander Forbes School because he was the only boy who would dance with the girls.
Gail’s experience was that acceptance by the children was not a problem. It was parents’ fear that made their acceptance of him difficult. Parents did come and ask why educational money was being “wasted” on David in the classroom and why he was in the classroom. Some were afraid that having David in the classroom jeopardized their child’s chances to be successful. Fortunately, those instances were very minimal. “The only way to stop the attitude is to continue to include the disabled into the community so that the public gets accustomed to interacting with them.”