This holiday season will be a momentous one for Jessica and her family. After living seven years at the Children’s Care residential facility in Sioux Falls, she’s going home for the holidays….and staying!
Jessica was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of four. She had no way to communicate and was disconnected from the world around her. She became confused, frustrated, and angry because she couldn’t understand others, and in turn, her parents were at wits’ end because they couldn’t fulfill her needs.
As Jessica struggled to make sense of her world, she acted out with inappropriate behavior, making it difficult for her family to take her with them anywhere. She wouldn’t sit or attend to anything for more than a few seconds.
Wanting to offer Jessica a chance for a better life, her parents turned to Children’s Care. Jessica’s mother, Denise, describes their decision to send Jessica to live five hours away as a leap of faith. While it was difficult for them to do, she was not improving with local schooling and they saw it as an opportunity for her to get the 24-hour care she needed to grow, learn, and become more independent.
“Jessica made more progress in the first 90 days at Children’s Care than she did in all the previous years combined,” says her mother, Denise.
With the help of her team (occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech language pathologist, case manager, educational specialist, behavioral specialist, direct support professionals and others) and the use of a communication device, she quickly learned and blossomed. Jessica was finally able to tell people what she wanted through pictures and symbols.
Jessica’s parents have appreciated knowing that the whole Children’s Care team is working towards her goals and that staff members make themselves readily accessible in person and by phone and email for questions and concerns.
Today Jessica is still unable to talk, but her communication device acts as her voice when she interacts with teachers, therapists, and friends. She laughs and engages with friends and says “I love you” to the people she is closest to. She attends day school, works on skills like cooking and baking, has become an avid swimmer, and goes to the mall and to other places teenagers enjoy.
Staff members at Children’s Care are her family-away-from-home, and those near her age have become her closest friends. “She’s made an amazing connection with some of them – especially Amber and Ashley. They expect more out of her and treat her like anyone else her age,” Denise says.
Thanks to the nurturing friendships she has made, Jessica today is more relaxed, calm, engaging, and social. She has great eye contact and uses her communication device much like other teenagers use their phone to text.
Jessica will turn 20 in January, and while she has traveled home to Rapid City numerous times throughout the years, she will soon be there for good. Her parents and step-parents have worked very hard to create a transition plan that best fits Jessica’s needs, and she has a whole extended family to love and support her back home in Rapid City.
With the help of Black Hills Works, Black Hills Special Services Coop, the Rapid City School district, and the Spearfish school district, Jessica will continue to grow, learn, and develop vocational skills that will take her into adulthood.
While her family knows she will miss her Children’s Care family, they are excited and ready to make sure that void is filled in her new home.
Through the dedication of staff at Children’s Care, the love and support of a caring family, and the generosity of individuals who support Children’s Care with their gifts, Jessica is well on her way to achieving her goals. Her inspirational story offers hope that all children can thrive, learn, and live a better life.