The transition to adult life is difficult, but it can be especially complicated for teenagers with disabilities. There are a number of challenges to consider: postsecondary education, work, family life, adult health care, functional independence and mobility, independent living, and recreation.
In terms of transition, one size does not fit all. Each individual faces unique obstacles that require a customized approach. And the CRS Teen Transition Clinic (TTC) offers such an approach.
Based on a program at the Minnesota Department of Public Health, TTC was created in 1999 to provide teens and their families guidance in transition and planning for the future.
The professionals staffing the clinic may vary, but can include a social worker; physical medicine or adolescent medicine specialist or pediatrician; nurse; physical therapist; occupational therapist; audiologist; nutritionist; speech language pathologist; and youth consultant advocate (based on diagnosis/need). Others participating may include a rehabilitation technology specialist, vocational assessment specialist, independent living specialist, and VR counselor.
Working together, this team examines a variety of transition-related issues to provide the consumer and his or her family with guidance and direction and ease the move into adulthood.
CRS Assistant Commissioner Melinda Davis sees the clinic as a vital element of the department’s continuum of services.
“It’s certainly an important part of what we do,” she said. “We’re not just thinking about the present for the children we serve. We’re also thinking about their futures and helping them and their families think about their futures. If we serve a child from birth to 3 and then 3 to 21, and then do nothing to help him or her transition to adult life, we’ve done that person a great disservice.”
Currently, the clinic is offered at four sites around the state – Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Mobile, all functioning “at varying capacities” in their areas, said Paige Hebson, supervisor at ADRS-Lakeshore, which partners with CRS to direct and staff the clinics.
Davis, however, would like to expand the TTC’s capacity as well as the number of offices offering the clinic.
To that end, she’s hired a vocational evaluator – a first for CRS. That evaluator, Lauren Wright, is based in the CRS office in Homewood and her sole job is to serve TTC participants.
“In the past, we’ve shared a voc evaluator position with VRS, but the testing is so involved that it wasn’t possible for that person to keep up with demand,” Davis said. “When we looked at growing the clinic, we realized that we needed to add a full-time position if we wanted to increase capacity.”
Another key component of the plans to grow the clinic is simply educating CRS and VRS staff about its benefits. To do that, Davis enlisted help from Paige Hebson and her husband, Randy, the CRS supervisor in Homewood, who served on the group that crafted the guidelines for the clinic in 1998. (A team that also included CRS Statewide Parent Consultant Susan Colburn and former ADRS staff members Emily Hussey and Linda Graham.)
So far, the Hebsons, along with Wright and ADRS-Lakeshore staffers Michael Washington and Darcy Mitchell, have visited offices in Anniston, Dothan, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa to promote the clinic and outline its history and purpose to CRS and VRS staff in those areas.
“In addition to expanding the clinic’s capacity, one of the goals for us is to further strengthen the department’s continuum of services,” said Davis. “We already have transition social workers and CR/VR liaisons, but by having Randy, Paige, and the Lakeshore staff go out and talk about Teen Transition Clinic, we’re also hoping that VRS staff will see and understand the merits of everything that happens in this clinic. The information and recommendations that come out of this clinic are incredibly helpful to a rehab counselor who is building a VR case.”