PERSONAL STORIES

A  PARENT’S  JOURNEY

PERSONAL STORIES

A PARENT’S JOURNEY

The Launch

We use the word “Launch” in a variety of contexts- from a spaceship lift off to the startup of a new company and the release of an adult offspring into the world. The word is typically used to describe a monumental event that has come to fruition after immense preparation, expended energy, teamwork, sacrifice, perseverance and assumption of risk.

There have been quite a few launches recently. The most famous one I can remember was that of the Space Shuttle Challenger. I had followed the crew and craft preparations for months and had carefully tracked the training, setbacks and delays. My father was an air force veteran and commercial airline pilot, so I have always been intellectually and emotionally connected to anything that takes flight. This flight was especially meaningful to me because the Commander was a USAF Vietnam veteran, like Dad, and the crew included a teacher, like my mom. On that fateful Tuesday in January 1986, I was home sick with the flu. I watched from the family room couch as the Challenger fired up her rocket boosters and lifted up gloriously into the sky. What happened seconds later continues to haunt me to this day. Yet, less than three years later, I watched and prayed along with the rest of the world as the Discovery triumphantly pierced the heavens. On the wings of the Challenger’s failure, our nation’s shuttle returned to flight. It was nothing short of a miracle.

I can attest from personal and professional experience that the “Launch” of an adult offspring into the world can seem just as nerve racking, exhilarating and risky as a space launch, especially when that offspring has disabilities. In fact, every transition for a student with disabilities is a “Launch” of sorts. A student’s transition from high school to college is often the culmination of a series of failed and successful missions. It is a milestone built upon years of assessments, training, support, instruction, disasters and lessons learned. My husband and I launched our second son from high school to college

recently. Sixteen years after receiving an autism spectrum diagnosis and working tirelessly with a team of experts, therapists, public school and private educators, our son told us it was time to let him go. And so we did. As we drove away from his college dorm, we prayed that his “Launch” would be successful. Was he prepared? Had we done enough? Was the training and preparation sufficient? Would he be successful and return intact?

I am happy to report that the “Launch” of our second son to college was successful. Of course, there were problems, setbacks and late night calls to “Houston.” And this new mission is still in progress, with three years to go until completion. But given his initial diagnosis years ago and the projected path at that time, this recent “Launch” was nothing short of a miracle. We pray that the road leading up to this point has provided all of us with the lessons and training necessary to successfully complete this mission. Among the most important lessons for our son have been those focused on communication, problem solving, self-advocacy and independent living skills. Within those lessons, there have been exhilarating moments of success and countless, painful failures too. Remarkably, the gift of RESILIENCE has emerged from all of that. The key elements along the way have been preparation, teamwork, positive energy, sacrifice, perseverance and assumption of risk. And of course, contingency plans for the inevitable disasters. And then, in the final hour, taking a deep breath, embracing the countdown, and letting go.

Janine Kelly, JD, is a special education advocate in Connecticut, where she has been supporting children with disabilities and their families for over 12 years. She lives in Wilton, CT with her husband, two college-age sons, teenage daughter and their Westie terrier, Rey.

More About Janine Kelly

The Launch

We use the word “Launch” in a variety of contexts- from a spaceship lift off to the startup of a new company and the release of an adult offspring into the world. The word is typically used to describe a monumental event that has come to fruition after immense preparation, expended energy, teamwork, sacrifice, perseverance and assumption of risk.

There have been quite a few launches recently. The most famous one I can remember was that of the Space Shuttle Challenger. I had followed the crew and craft preparations for months and had carefully tracked the training, setbacks and delays. My father was an air force veteran and commercial airline pilot, so I have always been intellectually and emotionally connected to anything that takes flight. This flight was especially meaningful to me because the Commander was a USAF Vietnam veteran, like Dad, and the crew included a teacher, like my mom. On that fateful Tuesday in January 1986, I was home sick with the flu. I watched from the family room couch as the Challenger fired up her rocket boosters and lifted up gloriously into the sky. What happened seconds later continues to haunt me to this day. Yet, less than three years later, I watched and prayed along with the rest of the world as the Discovery triumphantly pierced the heavens. On the wings of the Challenger’s failure, our nation’s shuttle returned to flight. It was nothing short of a miracle.

I can attest from personal and professional experience that the “Launch” of an adult offspring into the world can seem just as nerve racking, exhilarating and risky as a space launch, especially when that offspring has disabilities. In fact, every transition for a student with disabilities is a “Launch” of sorts. A student’s transition from high school to college is often the culmination of a series of failed and successful missions. It is a milestone built upon years of assessments, training, support, instruction, disasters and lessons learned. My husband and I launched our second son from

high school to college recently. Sixteen years after receiving an autism spectrum diagnosis and working tirelessly with a team of experts, therapists, public school and private educators, our son told us it was time to let him go. And so we did. As we drove away from his college dorm, we prayed that his “Launch” would be successful. Was he prepared? Had we done enough? Was the training and preparation sufficient? Would he be successful and return intact?

I am happy to report that the “Launch” of our second son to college was successful. Of course, there were problems, setbacks and late night calls to “Houston.” And this new mission is still in progress, with three years to go until completion. But given his initial diagnosis years ago and the projected path at that time, this recent “Launch” was nothing short of a miracle. We pray that the road leading up to this point has provided all of us with the lessons and training necessary to successfully complete this mission. Among the most important lessons for our son have been those focused on communication, problem solving, self-advocacy and independent living skills. Within those lessons, there have been exhilarating moments of success and countless, painful failures too. Remarkably, the gift of RESILIENCE has emerged from all of that. The key elements along the way have been preparation, teamwork, positive energy, sacrifice, perseverance and assumption of risk. And of course, contingency plans for the inevitable disasters. And then, in the final hour, taking a deep breath, embracing the countdown, and letting go.

Janine Kelly, JD, is a special education advocate in Connecticut, where she has been supporting children with disabilities and their families for over 12 years. She lives in Wilton, CT with her husband, two college-age sons, teenage daughter and their Westie terrier, Rey.

More About Janine Kelly

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PERSONAL STORIES

READ OTHER PERSONAL STORIES