Last year at my son’s high school graduation, I was overcome by a flood of emotion. Not surprising you might say; all moms get choked up when they see their young adult in cap and gown, on the verge of an important life transition. I started thinking back to when Justin was just a preschooler, and then something caught my eye.
A handful of students were sitting closer to the stage, supervised by teachers. While I didn’t know them by name, I knew them. These were some of the students in the special education classroom that I had just visited a few weeks prior, the classroom where Justin’s younger sister, Carrie, would soon be enrolled..
As Justin was starting preschool 14 years ago, Carrie was diagnosed with severe autism. Her preschool years were filled with numerous therapies and interventions all aimed at helping her to be more able. During those early years, I sought out moms whose kids were a bit older, figuring they’d be a few steps ahead of us in navigating this new world of special needs.
School has been Carrie’s anchor. Like most kids with autism, she craves routine and needs structure and repetition to learn. All too quickly, though, she was 15 and teachers began to broach with us with the subject of Carrie’s ‘transition.’ “Transition to what?” I wondered, hoping that someone would share with us a list of options.
As I soon discovered, the ‘transition’ referred to where Carrie would go after high school. The options were slim. There was not much of anything for young adults like Carrie after that yellow school bus stops coming. That is, until now.
New option, new hope
Barbara and Charlie Burnett blazed the trail for me and for many parents whose kids with autism have begun transitioning into adulthood. Their daughter, Alyssa, who is significantly affected by autism, completed public school in 2009 and at the age of 21, found herself without any services or programs to help her transition to adulthood. So, in July 2014, the Burnetts and Tessera donated $7 million, including Tessera’s space in Bothell, to launch Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center.
Now open and ready to help meet the important needs of adults with autism or other developmental disabilities, the Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center hosts year-round classes for adults age 18 or older. The classes promote lifelong learning, enhance quality of life and provide meaningful ways to take part in the community.
On behalf of weary parents everywhere, I offer a huge thank you to Barbara and Charlie Burnett. They have created a desperately-needed service for the ever-growing number of young adults with developmental disabilities in our region.
I still ponder the question: “Will Carrie be ready?” I want her to be happy, healthy and to continue to learn and grow her whole life. The same as I want for Justin. The same as all parents want for their children.
I don’t know for sure that she’ll ever be ready. But I now have renewed hope that Carrie and many others like her who are becoming young adults will have more opportunities than ever to enhance their quality of life.
Help the Burnett Adult Life Center grow! When you make a gift to the Burnett Adult Life Center before July 30, your donation will be matched dollar for dollar thanks to The Bradley Family Foundation. Gifts to Seattle Children’s Autism Center will also be matched dollar for dollar. Donate at https://giveto.seattlechildrens.org/AutismMatch to qualify for the match.
- Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center
- Seattle Children’s Autism Center
- Press Release: Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center