Blake’s journey to independence
Finishing high school is an exciting time for Australian students. It signifies the transition to adulthood and the start of a young person’s journey towards independence. For our customer Blake, finishing Year 12 in 2014 was certainly an exciting time, but it also brought a raft of new challenges for him and his family to navigate. What would Blake do every day without school to attend? How would he make new friends? How would he participate in the community? Who, apart from his family, would support him to grow into a confident young man?
Thankfully for Blake, Northcott’s Wollongong team has been there to steer him through the transition from student to young adult, while also supporting him to plot a course for his future. Having Northcott in Blake’s life has also eased some of the worries his parents felt as the end of his schooling was approaching.
“I was worried [when Blake was finishing school] because while he can make friends easily, I knew that if he didn't keep that up, then he'd definitely go backwards socially and mentally,” says Blake’s mother, Joanne.
“I knew that if he didn’t have the stimulation of going out and being around people, he would be unhappy. It was daunting to think about where he would go and where he could fit.”
Blake is 21-years-old and has cerebral palsy with quadriplegia, which means he can’t bear weight and has very limited use of his left arm and his legs. Carers come twice a day to assist him with everyday tasks such as getting up in the morning and preparing for the day. He relies on his parents or carers to take him out so he can enjoy social activities. Although he can communicate well verbally, Blake uses technology such as a tablet, mobile phone and laptop to connect with others.
“I use a motorised wheelchair to get around in the house and when I'm out with friends and family being social. I need assistance with personal care, showering, brushing my teeth, food preparation and eating, taking my medication, ironing and washing…pretty much 99% of things I do,” Blake explains, adding that the hardest part of having cerebral palsy is “just not being independent enough.”
“I know I would feel sad if I didn’t have assistance with personal care and those sorts of things. If I wasn’t able to do anything or go anywhere, I would get mentally down.”
To support him to build his independence after finishing school, Blake decided to attend Northcott’s School Leaver Employment Support (SLES) Program (also known as Transition To Work and Vocational Skills). Through this program, which he completed over three years, Blake started to learn important skills, such as how to use public transport. Being able to get himself from A to B independently now means Blake can rely less on his parents to do the things he wants to. Through Northcott, Blake has also made strong friendships, including meeting his girlfriend, Amy, with whom he shares many common interests. He has also partially completed a Certificate II in Information Technology (assisted by Northcott) and now writes a weekly blog about his beloved football team, the St George Dragons. Additionally, every fortnight, Blake travels to a local primary school to volunteer at the Sports Ready program, arranged with Northcott’s support.
“When I was finishing school, I knew I wanted to try and get out the house so I wasn't stuck at home 24/ 7,” Blake says. “I liked Northcott because of the environment and the warm and friendly staff.”
This year, Blake is participating in our Everyday Life Skills Program four days a week to continue to develop skills and work towards his long-term goals of getting a job and moving out of home. With a Northcott carer, Blake regularly goes shopping, to the movies or just gets out and about. He also enjoys going to his local nightclub which offers a monthly event for people with disability, their families and friends.
“I’m a social person…If I didn’t have the Northcott program I’d be very lonely. It’s made a difference with having friends. It has made me a more independent person and the support has made me realise how crucial Northcott is to my life. I would be mentally down if I didn't have Northcott in my life.”
Blake’s mum, Joanne also thinks life would be very different for Blake without Northcott’s support.
“It would be a lot harder. They've helped him through a few situations, and some things have come up that he hasn't wanted to talk to us about, but he's talked to Northcott about it. The staff have been very supportive and assisted us through several challenges,” she says.
When thinking about his future, Blake says his long-term goal is to move out of home. He also wants a job – perhaps in blogging – and opportunities to spend more time at home without his parents, and socialising away from home without relying on his mum or dad.
“One-on-one support on the weekend is something I’d really like. At the moment, if my parents aren't available to take me, well then I can't go out,” Blake explains.
If you want to support more young adults like Blake on their road to independence, please donate to our tax appeal before 30 June 2018.