Day Program
For Young Adults with Challenging Needs


 By Lylee Williams
(Based on an interview with Sirjirick Philipp Gibson, Director of One Step Closer)

One Step Closer is located in a large,comfortable home

Every person meets challenges when passing through the different stages of life, but many of those with FAS/E must also contend with disabilities of a physical, mental and social nature. In the stage of young adulthood, those with FAS/E are still trying to overcome intellectual impairment, difficulties with impulsiveness, poor ability to generalize and to anticipate and respond to consequences. Their motivation can easily be interpreted as poor and they appear passive. Some have a tendency to lie, cheat and steal, have difficulty in setting and recognizing boundaries and may find themselves in trouble because they do not understand appropriate sexual behavior. Also, a person who is gullible, as those with FAS/E are, becomes a prime target for exploitation by crafty criminals to do their front-line, risky work with the result that they are the ones who are more likely to get caught.

If they do not receive help at this life stage, possessing such characteristics can lead to their school experience being disrupted, followed by dropping out. Perhaps they are jobless and homeless, or may have borne children that are not planned and cannot be cared for without support. Some can get into trouble with the law and have mental health problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and panic attacks. Alcohol and drug problems can easily enter into their lives and ultimately and sadly, premature death.

Putting such severe problems into perspective and seeking a solution can be a daunting task, but the community of Kahnawake, Quebec has taken the challenge by starting a new program that is designed to meet the needs of young adults with developmental disabilities, including those with FAS/E. The program is called “One Step Closer” because it leads participants one step closer to independence and successful integration into the community. It was created primarily to help achieve the vision of the local Advocacy Group, that all members of the community:

“Live in a state of dignity, share in all the elements of community life and have the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way. We believe that people with challenging needs and their families should be supported so that they can enjoy the same dreams, rights and privileges as any other community member and that their contributions to the community should be recognized and valued.”

This vision is becoming a reality via the program offered by One Step Closer, which is located in a large, comfortable home situated in the middle of the community. For every two clients, there is one staff member who acts as a support person and role model. Each day revolves around a structured routine that is fittingly called a “Typical Day”. It begins with a house meeting, which allows everyone a voice in deciding how they are going to become part of that day. For example, Mr. Harold, the lunch program facilitator, may announce that spaghetti is on the menu for that day and consequently ask for volunteer clientele who are good with their hands to cut up the vegetables. This is just one example of how the participants gain a sense of control over their lives by deciding which activities they want to be part of.

Mr. Harold busily cutting vegetables with the clientele

The curriculum is appropriately titled ‘Community Integration Activities’ because they lead participants towards successful integration into the community. For example, to help clients use community resources effectively, they are taught how to handle money in activities such as carrying money, making purchases, and opening up a bank account. They are constantly exposed to community services and resources, taught telephone usage, and stranger awareness. To learn self-advocacy, they participate in choice-making activities such as being exposed to opportunities in the community, identification of options, having the steps to achieving goals demonstrated, and taking responsibility for their actions. In the area of social skills, clients plan daily activities in a group setting made possible through the learning of effective communication skills. These skills extend outward to build meaningful relationships with friends, family and community members. They are encouraged to express their needs, wants and feelings, to problem solve, negotiate, resolve conflicts and are taught coping strategies to deal with the everyday stresses of life.

This is quite a list of curriculum objectives, but what will likely guarantee its success is the respectful collaboration between the staff, clientele and parents as well as the dedication of the Life Skills Educators and Support Staff who deliver activities that are developed around the strengths, interests, and needs of the clientele.