Young woman decides village she volunteered at will become her new home
Brampton’s Village of Sandalwood Park had a big impact on Sephra Peters’s life during the time she spent there in her later high school years, where she helped with various tasks and enjoyed the social interaction of Village life as part of a unique co-op placement.
In terms of Autism, Sephra swings towards the moderate to severe end of the spectrum. She has an exuberant energy and loves to talk about movies or clothing – practically everything she wears has a connection to a memory of past events, and she’s happy to share their meaning with others. She loves conversation, though she’s not always able to let others in and it takes time to understand what she’s discussing as she moves quickly from subject to subject. While she’s generally a happy person, certain situations, sounds or stimuli can incite anxiety or frustration, but her heart is a big as they come and she loves making new friends.
While she was in school, her parents were intense advocates for inclusion, helping to create opportunities for social growth and development that might not otherwise have happened in more isolated settings. When her time in school ended, however, everything changed. There are virtually no programs to meet her unique needs as a young adult living with autism, her mother Elaine explains, and Sephra felt isolated living at home with few social connections beyond her family. She tried an independent living situation, which unfortunately failed to support any type of social growth and after a year she was back at home. Like any young person, however, she wanted to live independently in her own space outside of her parents’ direct care.
She wanted to live at Sandalwood Park, where she was already comfortable and had developed meaningful relationships. The team was happy to accept her and after a long wait, she moved into the Johnston neighbourhood in mid-April. Her room, painted to her liking, is a sort of soft-pastel violet that offers a sense of calm to all who step over the threshold. She has her movies, music, and countless photo albums, and sometimes the sound of her bare feet can be heard slapping the tiled floor as she dances in her room.
When asked what she enjoys about Sandalwood Park, Sephra says she loves her room and she loves the “relationships.” Elaine says she finds comfort in the fact that Sephra has plenty of opportunity to develop these relationships, even though they’re with people who are mostly decades older. People are people after all, and age doesn’t have to mean anything. There is also great comfort in the fact that the caregiver role has been transferred, easing certain pressures and demands in Elaine’s life. Now they can spend more time together in social settings as mother and daughter, free of the daily routines and demands that dominated much of their time together after high school ended.
“A 24-year-old wants to be away from their parents,” Elaine says. “She might not be developmentally the way people would think of a 24-year-old, but in that way, she’s there. She wants to be independent.”
The greatest challenge Elaine sees as she reflects on the first six weeks of Sephra’s time in the village is the fact that few caregivers in long-term care settings understand the complexities that come with autism. She’s happy to know, however, that relationship-centred care is a cornerstone of the organizational approach to resident support within Schlegel Villages. A person living with autism is no different that someone living with dementia, the philosophy suggests, in the sense that each person has a unique personality and different hopes and dreams, fears, desires and dislikes. The key to offering the best support possible is for caregivers to dedicate the necessary time to building strong relationships with those they support. In doing so, they can understand each resident as an individual.
Elaine suggests the team and Sephra’s fellow residents ask as many questions as possible about who she is. They must never assume she can’t do something for herself but should instead encourage her to be as independent as possible. There are many roles she can fill in village life, and it’s clear she’s happy to be part of it.
The faces of residents in long-term care are changing, and no longer do they only belong to elders living out the final stage of life. Sephra is one example of the new face of long-term care, and teams would do well to learn all they can from her.