New hope for Christian
In late 2016, Kari Green of Rapid City was in a state of desperation with her 17-year-old son. Christian has autism, and like most people with this diagnosis, he struggles with unpredictability and managing emotions. When things happen outside of the norm, Christian sees that as a threat. His behaviors had become harder to handle.
“It really started to deteriorate when he became a teenager,” says Kari. “It became very difficult for me, because he’s a big kid. He’s very kind-hearted, but the way he expresses his emotions can be very difficult. He would throw things. He would hit, kick, push. Sensory things such as lighting, noise – certain smells even – can send him over the edge.” When he calmed down, Christian was filled with remorse. “You could definitely tell he had a sense of hopelessness,” says Kari. “He knew there was something wrong, but he didn’t know how to make it better.”
“It got to the point where we were in crisis mode nearly every day, and I would have to involve the Rapid City Police Department to come and assist. This actually worked wonderfully because my son loves them. They would calm him quite quickly. It’s not a long-term solution, though. I didn’t ever want things to escalate to the point where he would end up in a cell, because that is obviously not where these kids belong.”
Christian was in a special education classroom in the Rapid City School District. “The school did a really good job as far as what they could, given the difficulties that were presented with Christian,” says Kari. “They did their absolute best, until unfortunately they just knew that he needed more. That’s really when we needed to seek services outside.” That’s when they chose LifeScape in Sioux Falls.
Kari says this was the hardest decision she ever made. She felt that enrolling her son in a residential program so far away would be admitting failure. “Unfortunately Rapid City does not have the level of residential care that is needed for children with autism or other disabilities,” she says. “I had to put my own feelings aside and really think about Christian’s future.”
In January 2017, Christian came to LifeScape in an emergency placement. He enrolled in the Specialty School and lives in the Children’s Residential Program. With the staff expertise and structured environment, Christian quickly started to make gains.
“Every single person – from the school teachers, to the case managers, the nurses, the behavioral therapists – everybody, works as a team to care for Christian. My son is 350 miles away. However, I am completely involved in his care, because LifeScape involves me, and obviously I involve myself. I communicate with staff every single day. There are therapy logs that I can view at any time and read what’s going on with my son at that moment. So even though he’s so far away, I still feel that sense of closeness which is so, so important.”
Kari visits every other weekend, and when it’s available, stays in the family apartment on site at LifeScape. Christian stays with her, and she appreciates knowing there is help just moments away if she needs it. That’s rarely needed anymore, though. In fact, Christian celebrated this past Christmas at home in Rapid City. Kari wrote to staff with her appreciation:
"This Christmas I received the best gift that I could have ever asked for – my son. Christian was so kind, respectful, caring, and happy while he was home. You all are amazing, and with your care and compassion, have given my son a chance at life. You have given him and us the gift of his smile, his laughter, and his wonderful sense of humor. Christian is our everything, and we will forever be grateful to LifeScape for helping him reach his goals."
Kari says parents who are raising children with disabilities feel alone. “I don’t believe that people understand,” she says. “That’s why I believe it’s so important that we bring awareness.” Kari wishes LifeScape had residential and school services in Rapid City. “There are so many families out there that could benefit,” she says.
Right now Christian is really working on his social skills. He is learning to shop. He uses the Home Ec room to practice meal preparation, and is learning to do his own laundry. He is riding horses through Horsepower, and wowed his family recently by performing in a LifeScape musical production. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we could make that type of progress,” says Kari.
“Obviously there are still obstacles that we overcome. Some days are not the greatest, but we expect that. Walking through the halls of LifeScape, I can tell you that every single person--whether they are involved in Christian’s care or not—you are greeted with a smile.”
“It’s very clear that LifeScape sets goals. The way that they plan is very strategic. The goals that are set for Christian are very individualized and they work very, very hard to reach those goals.”
“You can definitely tell he is more confident,” says Kari. “When he feels anxiety coming on or agitation, he copes with that. He’s so proud, you can tell. It makes me so happy to see that confidence finally starting to build in him. He’s got hopes and dreams.”
Kari looks forward to Christian coming back home for good, and she wants him to be happy. “I want him to be successful, too,” she says. “I want him to contribute to the community. Whether that be bagging groceries or selling popcorn, if that makes him happy, then he’s successful. That’s what I hope and pray for him. Confidence is really what he’s gained. And hope. He knows he’s going to have a good future.”