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Archive for August, 2011

The Disability Shuffle: Dancing on a wall | Part 10

Dancing Party
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mini D

The Disability Shuffle: Two steps forward, one step back. OR, One step forward, two steps back…. The frantic drumming of time passing pounds in your ears as you shuffle and twist and beg others to listen and join in your dance of survival. “Can I keep up or will I fall and break my neck?”

As you straddle the wall between Normal and Disability Worlds, you wonder, “I’m dancing as fast as I can, but is it to my own song, or am I merely a puppet dancing on the professional’s strings?”

This is the 10th post about our attempt to bring our son with the label of autism home to the county where we live. Over the course of a year, this is about the 500th action step we have taken to try and make this happen.

Today I have good news and bad news.


One of the local non-profits is willing to purchase a house in the city where we live.

According to the policies of HUD, parents and family members are forbidden to own the houses.

This non-profit has been around for a long time and will likely be solvent. Aaron has lived and rented one of their houses in B County for the last 13 years. They do a good job.

They are willing to get the house HUD approved and Aaron would be able to use his “housing choice voucher” to become the head of household and rent from them. This voucher is also good for any roommate Aaron would pick.

Aaron could live in this house for the rest of his life. The non-profit said they would let us be involved in the process of finding a home. It could be close to where we live, so we could stay active in Aaron’s life and watch over his care and the unpredictable staff. Since we would treat this home like our own, we pledge we would be good stewards.

Finding, Purchasing, Renovating, Furnishing and moving in will take time. And we are already on our second 30 day extension in the HUD timeline. Ouch, only 60 more days.

Since Aaron would use his HUD voucher for himself and another person, this would be a long-term solution which would help costs in the new county.


With creative problem solving and resources in Disability World, we could meet the criteria set up in HUD Regular World. (Another time we can talk about how HUD Regular world, might be another parallel universe from Normal World.)


The County Board of DD must give their permission for the non-profit to come into the county and be willing to work with them. I don’t think this is any law, just good business practice.


Each county sets up their own non-profit to rent the houses to people with disabilities.

Some of these use HUD Section 8 rent vouchers,

Others just have the people pay the full rent, and

Some have their rent subsidized local county funds.

Each County is Different.

The non-profit housing agency in B County is pretty independent of the board.

The non-profit in W County is run from inside the county offices.

Same mission–to provide affordable accessible housing–totally different structures.

B County uses many HUD vouchers; W County uses rent subsidies from local funds.

Aaron and the people with disabilities I am talking about are among the poorest and most vulnerable of Americans. They have labels of physical and intellectual disabilities, autism, developmental disabilities that started before age 22. Many have no family or others to help them at all. Each county tries to keep the rent at 1/3 of the person’s income or social security check–which is around $120.

Everyone knows there aren’t many places to rent for $120. Even with a second roommate that is only $240. If you add the special accessibility needs—well, you get the idea. People with disabilities are going to need some sort of rent subsidy to live in any decent house or apartment.

Our new county’s housing non-profit does not have the funds to buy any property in our city (the largest one in the county). They have most of their property in the county seat, which is centrally located to the county, but not to the population. I wrote about the one property they do have in our city in Part 8| Roommate hunt continues Medicaid Waiver Style
and Part 9| Should I rent a billboard? So, bottom line.

Our new county is “thinking” about accepting the offer but it has to go up the food chain. It is a bureaucracy and even if it is a good bureaucracy, there are staff who go on vacation, go to conferences, have babies, use personal days, and have full agenda’s that don’t include Aaron Ulrich, someone who currently isn’t even in their county. YET?

So we wait. And wait. And pray that we will be able to meet the timeline. We keep dancing on the wall.

And maybe they are hoping if they keep us dancing long enough, we will wear out, and exhausted we will give up and stay where we are. Not bother them in this new county.

But Tom and I live in W County. Have for 12 years and plan on being here for the rest of our lives.


Creative Commons License photo credit: 2create


Friday we got a notice that the Director of Aaron’s Day program resigned suddenly. We LOVED this director. She put her heart and soul into developing this new day program in our new county.

So, Aaron loses his good friend and a competent professional who loved him.

As it looks like we might be solving one problem and be able to add one card to the residential domain of Aaron’s life (God willing and the creek don’t rise) another card in the vocational domain collapses.

So be it in the life of a family of people with disabilities. And when this HUD Housing Card is in place, then we get to continue the search for a roommate who has a Medicaid Waiver and who would want to live with Aaron.

Hey, wonder when families will get a break and be able to go on vacations, take personal days….?

One step forward, two steps back… The Disability Shuffle continues.


Does this make sense? Does your county have a non-profit board for housing? Does your family member have a HUD or other rent subsidy? If so, who owns the house? Today I’m going to concentrate on the hopeful promise of the non-profit and pray it works. What hopeful promise are you praying for?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.
All my best,


Should I rent a billboard? Finding roommates | Part 9

billboard bachelor
Creative Commons License photo credit: numberstumper

Should I rent a billboard| Medicaid Waiver Roommates Part 9

This is Part 9 in a series of posts about moving my son Aaron, who has the label of autism, from his current residence to the county where we live. If you want the background click on Searching for a Roommate: Medicaid Waiver Style| Part 8

Visiting House #3: Picnic and Social Gathering

First Meeting

In Part 8, my husband, Tom, and I met with two representatives of the residential company’s administration and our County Support Coordinator. We did a quick tour and saw enough good things to want to set a follow-up meeting where Aaron would get to meet the two potential roommates, Andy and Bea.

Yes sir, Andy is the Andy who had the problems in House #2. Disability World is a small place.

Flurry of Emails

The staff decided a picnic at the house might be a fun way for everyone to meet. Aaron likes picnics, and the informal atmosphere sounded good, so we set the date for 6 PM on a Wednesday evening.

Both sets of parents emailed me and welcomed us the next day. The staff said they would grill hotdogs and hamburgers. I offered to bring the dessert. The other parents brought salad, and macaroni and cheese. Bea’s and Andy’s parents, plus each of them had a sister who was coming.

In our previous experiences, the family members did not use email and it was difficult to communicate. I was excited this was so easy.

The professionals were not going to be able to come but we were looking forward to meeting the two young people and talking with their families.

I didn’t know how many people and they said they didn’t have any food allergies, so we brought two gallons of ice cream (one chocolate with nuts, another Neapolitan) some fancy butter cookies, plastic bowls and plasticware. These were Aaron’s favorite, and since we wanted to impress them, came from the best bakery/ice cream parlor in town. (Really, you didn’t think I was going to bake them myself????)

I also wanted lots of extras because most people with disabilities don’t have many extras after their food stamps run out.

I called Aaron’s house and ask them to clean him up after his day at the day program and the staff had Aaron shaved, in clean clothes and spit shined. He looked terrific.

Aaron was a little surprised we were picking him up on a Wednesday night, and I told the staff person we were going to a picnic with some new friends. (True, but not the whole story.)

The staff at his current home knew we have been very unhappy, but we didn’t want to tip our hand about Aaron potentially moving because:

1. We were still in the exploring stage.

2. Nothing was definite.

3. We knew they would blow everything out of proportion.

First Date

Andy and Bea met us at the door when we knocked. I was thrilled. This seemed so “normal” and respectful. I thought, finally, the staff must “get” the idea that this is Andy and Bea’s home and they would be the ones to greet visitors. It gave me the warm fuzzy feeling of welcome.

We were invited into the family room and the place had lots of energy, noise and … lots of people. I think it scared Aaron.

We met Andy and Bea’s parents and sisters and were about to sit down, when one of the staff people ushered us out to the back yard.

It was a beautiful day, but was hot. The big yard was pie-shaped and fenced. We gravitated to one of the patios in the shade. I thought this was great because it would give Aaron some breathing room and his loud “You okay?” would not be as annoying outside.

Company Picnic and Social

Apparently, the residential company decided to make this a group picnic and social get-together for several of the people they served.

So, besides Andy and Bea, there were probably 6 other people with disabilities and their staff who were playing cornhole, badminton and other outside games in the grass. So, over 25 people.

They explained the residential houses often did leisure activities together in the evening and on weekends. They said the staff shifted between the houses and everyone knew everyone. This made staff changes and emergencies easier to handle and gave more opportunities for friendships and leisure activities for the people with disabilities.

I was okay with this, but questioned whether this was the best way to introduce Aaron to Andy and Bea when we had so much to talk about. I thought the staff should have asked if we thought all these people would upset Aaron.

One staff person was smoking at a table on the patio. This surprised me. Ohio does not allow staff to smoke in the houses, so technically this was not against the law, but it was so casual, I got the feeling it was common practice.

Everyone was very friendly, but it was too much for Aaron. He began to get very agitated and bite his hands.

Tom and I gave him his baseball cards to comfort himself, but there were not any chairs outside. We stood on the patio and watched as one of the head residential staff started up the grill.

The grill was in terrible shape. It was a gas grill that no longer worked, so they put charcoal where the grill element used to be. They also didn’t seem to have the long spatula and were using regular pot holders. I decided a new grill might be a good housewarming gift if Aaron decided to move in.

The staff person who was supposed to bring the meat was late, and then forgot the meat, so by the time the meat was finished it was after 7PM, the games had become tedious and all the people with disabilities were HUNGRY.

Someone found a plastic chair for Aaron, but he was not a happy person. He kept saying, “You okay, you okay” in his usual manner, but it made the other people uncomfortable and ask about him.

Mental Note: Add some outside chairs to the list of things to buy for the house.

They asked if Aaron wanted to play the games, but he just bit harder and this scared some people.

Tom and I alternated taking Aaron for walks around the house. This helped him calm down, but Aaron really wanted to eat.

We noticed a dead tree in the front yard, lots of weeds, and there were two cars parked on the front lawn. Now granted there was lots of company and most people parked on the driveway or street, but we have had trouble with staff before who thought it was okay to park on the grass.

Parent Talk

For this first hour, Andy and Bea were nowhere to be seen. We did have some lovely conversation with Andy and Bea’s parents. Typical parent talk: Where did our children go to school? How long have they lived away from home? What did they like to do? How often did the parents take their child home? What Doctors? Where did they go to day program?

When the food was finally ready, one of the staff persons asked Aaron if he wanted to eat in the dining room with Andy and Bea and some of the other young people.

I thought this was nice and gave Tom and I a chance to be with the other families in the family room. The staff gave us lots of privacy (if you can ignore 25 people walking in and out of the kitchen and family room).

No one used the living room (there was too much furniture—no one could move around). Did anyone else notice this? At some future time would I need to talk to Bea’s mom about getting a smaller coffee table?

Over our baked beans, mac and cheese and hamburgers, the other parents loosened up. Now, we were starting to get the real story about their children, the house, the landlord, the county….

Some of it was good. They liked Susan, the Support Coordinator; they thought the Residential company did a good job. Their families and Andy and Bea seemed to get along well. All positives.

And yes, here is where we got the story about the van wreck. We suspected Andy was the person from the previous house, but his mom told us the whole story and it sounded like the staff supervision was a big part of the problem.

Bea’s mom has some health issues and was worried that her daughter get comfortable in her own place in case something happened to her.

Both families shared their thoughts and worries.

We started on our list:

Aaron is loud, would Andy get aggressive or upset when he was trying to watch his big screen TV?

Would he be protective of “His” room and furniture?

Would they allow Aaron to bring in his things and carve out a living area? Or, would Aaron be like an invader?

Could Aaron bring his own couch? What would they say the first time Aaron spilled stuff, or had a toileting accident on their new sofa?

These were all concerns that would need further discussion. All of us were honest and thoughtful; we were all trying to figure out what was the best for our children. I wish Aaron, Bea and Andy could use words and tell us more what they were thinking.

Would the residential provider promise us good stuff and then only see Aaron as a “cash cow” like the previous company?

Landlord Issues

The biggest concerns were about the landlord.

Both parents had stories where the landlord wouldn’t return phone calls or emails. The landlord wouldn’t even cash the rent checks for months messing up the checking accounts. RED FLAG!

When we asked about remodeling the bathrooms, they thought it was a great idea, but thought the landlord may/may not be interested, even if it was at no cost to them. RED FLAG!

Bea’s mother bought a sturdy stainless steel bar for the shower, but the landlord still hadn’t given permission to hang it. (It was on the top of the refridge in the kitchen.) Meanwhile Bea struggled taking a shower. RED FLAG!

I asked if they thought the landlord would take a HUD housing choice voucher and they said they couldn’t even guess. RED RED FLAG!

I asked about the dead tree in the front yard and waist high weeds. They said the landlord contracted the grass cutting to the county agency, but didn’t do anything else to the yard. RED FLAG!

The parents said if they could, they would move their children to another house because the landlord was so unpredictable. SCARLET FLAG!

Second Date?

I sent emails thanking everyone.

Susan was still on vacation. The head of the residential company was still in the hospital with her new baby.

It was a long shot that it would be a match. There were just too many variables.

The hard part was the week wait; no one would even talk with us.

If everyone decided to move forward, the next step would be for Aaron to go and spend an hour or so with Andy and Bea without us.

And, of course, all week Aaron’s current residential provider went crazy asking us questions. We told them we were looking, the same as we told them before. We told them we had no idea how long this would take. But it was awkward and emotional.

After everyone got back from vacation, having babies… Susan talked with us and said the families were concerned it was just too much change for their children.

Nothing against Aaron, but they didn’t think a third roommate was a good idea at this time.

Aaron would not be a good match.

Tom and I had pretty much come to the same conclusion. But, it is still hard to be rejected.

So back to the county…start again…and face the ticking clock.


Any thoughts? I love for you to share your stories in the comments and social media.

Is the dating or matchmaker analogy appropriate? Should I rent a billboard?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.

All my best,


Roommate Hunt Continues: Medicaid Waiver Style| Part 8

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Creative Commons License photo credit:

Roommate Hunt Continues: Medicaid Waiver style| Part 8

This is Part 8 in a series of posts about moving my son Aaron, who has the label of autism, from one county to the adjoining county where we live. If you want the background click on Searching for a Roommate: Medicaid Waiver Style| Part 7


The clock is still ticking: we are asking for an extention until Sept. 31.

Ulrich HUD System Change Recommendation: All counties and states should use the same forms and the same rules/regulations. There is a time and place for state’s rights; it shouldn’t be on a federal program like HUD.

It would be so much easier on everyone if all the regulations and timelines were the same everywhere, not different in each county, each state. Then when a person looked for information on – they would find the information, not—each county has to explain “their” rules and regulations. Much confusion and time and wasted, and it is unnecessary. i.e. one county says you have to apply by the first of the month, another anytime….
I remember when PL 94-142 (Education for Handicapped Children Act) was passed in 1975. (Hey, I’m old.) Each school district in each state developed their own IEP forms. The idea was to give local control and not “impose” Federal regulations. Phooey. Parents and advocates then spent the next 10 years making sure the districts forms complied with Federal Law. It would have been sooooo much easier to have one Federal form, like they do now. Why take 35 years to figure that out?

Potential Roommates: House Number 3

In Part 6, I told about our meeting with Barney and his family. We also learned about a former roommate named Andy. Here is our meeting with the potential Roommates in House number 3.

Support Coordinator

Each residence in the county has its own Support Coordinator (like a social worker). So, this is our third house visit and our third Support Coordinator. If this residential placement doesn’t work and we check out another house, we will be assigned another Support Coordinator.

Ulrich System Change Recommendation: When a person is moving into a county they should be assigned ONE Support Coordinator, even if it is just for the transition into the county.

In our old county, we have had the same Support Coordinator for over 15 years, or forever in Disability World terms. She knows Aaron, she knows us. We love her and I think she loves us. She has followed our journey and helped us in innumerable ways, including talking to me when I need to vent and problem solve. We trust her judgment implicitly. When we actually move to the new county, one of the biggest losses we will feel is losing this dear friend and ally.

In the new county, Susan, our Support Coordinator du jour, reminded me of our beloved Support Coordinator from the old county. Susan called us and asked about Aaron, she even went to visit Aaron in his new day program at Goodwill/Easter Seals. She spent about an hour with Aaron and his Day Program Supervisor. (This got her great first hand information and brownie points from us.) This bought trust and loyalty from us.

Ulrich System Change Recommendation: Before the Support Coordinator or County Administrator tries to match potential roommates, they need to meet the person and family.

I know this is the day of on-line dating and matchmaking, but even if the Support Coordinators have Aaron’s ISP (Individual Service Plan—the adult version of the IEP), paperwork will never substitute for meeting the actual person.

In the comments from Part 7, two people recommended each county setting up a sort of online match site. It makes an interesting idea.

Visit House #3: Perfect Ranch near Park

Tom and I were pleased and excited when we learned the house we were visiting was literally within walking distance of our home. It was a large 60’s ranch with 4 Bedrooms, 2 Bath, sunken Living Room and even a family room. It was brick, had a fenced yard and was on a cul-de-sac with sidewalks. A city park was only a block away. Perfect, eh?

The house belonged to the parent of a young person in the County DD program. The county was desperate to find a ranch in our part of town and these parents said they could rent the house until their child grew up and could live there. Perfect, eh?

Susan said both the potential roommates were about Aaron’s age. I’m not really into labels, so I didn’t ask, and she didn’t offer. She said the county was only going to put 3 people max. in the house, even though there were 4 bedrooms. She said it was unusual to have a male and female as housemates, but it was working well in this situation. The one person mostly stayed in the living room, the other mostly the family room. They had only been living together for about 6 months. Perfect, eh?
She said the parents were active in their children’s lives. The one mom painted the common rooms (kitchen, living, dining and family rooms) and furnished the family room with new couches, flat screen TV….. The other parent bought the washer/dryer and furnished the living and dining rooms with new furniture. They took their children home for holidays and special occasions and visited them each week. Perfect, eh?

Susan highly recommended the residential company (who also came with the house). Perfect, eh?

She thought Aaron’s loud non-stop talking would not be a problem because the house was big enough, he could find his own favorite place to hang out. She said the two people liked to be out-and-about in the community and there would always be two staff people during all awake hours, so if one person wanted to stay home, it was possible, but Aaron would be able to be active. Perfect, eh?

Stakeholders Meetings

Susan thought it would be a good idea to meet with representatives of the residential company and let us tour the house before we actually met the potential roommates and their families. This way, if it didn’t work out, the potential roommates wouldn’t get confused or excited for nothing.

I thought that was a great idea–the less confusion the better. If the house was not going to work, then there was no point in getting Aaron and the other two people upset.
Susan, and two administrators of the residential company met with Tom and I one afternoon. We toured the house. We did a quick ecological assessment.

Ecological Inventory

Love, love, love the neighborhood and the fact that it is so close to our house. Lot of good things: nice floor plan, solid construction, good lighting and windows, two patios in the fenced back yard. There was new carpet and the kitchen had some new appliances.

But, the sunken living room did not have any railing or protection around the one foot drop. They had an 8×11 piece of paper taped to the floor that said, “Watch your step” but that wasn’t going to work with Aaron. He would need a protective railing across the 7 foot entrance to the living room and dining room, plus a railing to get down into the living room and up into the dining room. (Hope that made sense—the living room was one foot down from the hallway and the dining room.) If this house was to be used for the long term housing of people with disabilities, it would be a good idea to level the floor. There was no basement, so insulation over the slab would make the room more comfortable if the floor was leveled out.

The new furniture the parents bought took up the entire living room floor space. The coffee table was so large, you had to walk sideways around it to get to the other side of the room or to even sit on the couch. Aaron cannot walk sideways.

The new furniture in the family room was more accessible and Aaron wouldn’t have to climb up and down steps and risk toppling over the edge, so we thought Aaron might spend his time in the family room, but that meant he would not have access to the largest room in the house.

The bathrooms were an issue. The master bath was off the master bedroom. So, Aaron would have to go through the young man’s room to take a shower. The shower was probably 50 years old and wasn’t just old, it didn’t look clean. There was clutter on the floor. I worried that Aaron would not be able to just walk into the bathroom and god knows, we have enough toileting issues.

The second bathroom was long and skinny and was off the hallway. It was also not clean and had not been remodeled since the house was built. A staff person would have a difficult time helping Aaron take a bath/shower and help him with toileting—there was no room.

The bathroom in the hall was used by the young woman. There was a plastic stick-up bar in the shower which didn’t look sturdy.

We talked about the bathrooms being remodeled. After all, the first rule of advocacy is to ask for changes up front, before you sign the line, when you have more power.
The young woman’s bedroom was painted and decorated in her own bright pink. It had a personality and looked like a happy place 🙂

The smallest extra bedroom had an exercise bike in it and a closet with shelves, but no hanging rod.

The other was smaller than his current bedroom, had a bed for the staff and a regular size closet. So if Aaron moved in, he would take the bedroom with the regular closet and move the staff.


The visit was cordial. There was some potential for a match, so we decided to set up a visit the next Wednesday evening, when Aaron could join us to meet the young people and their families. The woman in charge of the residential company was expecting a baby (to be born the next day) and her second in command said she would set it up and email me. Susan, was going on vacation but was enthusiastic this would be a good match. We all left hopeful.


Tom and I both were surprised that they had two staff in the house at all times, and yet the bathrooms were so dirty and the house looked upkept. And…they knew we were coming. We wondered if that meant anything? Would these staff be any better than the ones we had now? Would there be a caring staff person like our favorite staff person, who has loved Aaron and looked out for him for the past 8 years?

We also worried that Aaron was so loud, how would the young man feel about that when he was trying to watch his big screen TV? Would the young man be protective of “His” room and furniture?

Would they allow Aaron to bring in his things and carve out a living area? Or, would Aaron be like an invader?
What would Aaron think about living with a young woman? Since most of his current staff were women, would he see a difference?

It would be nice to have parents that were willing to help with the maintenance, painting, buying furniture…. We are all looking for long-term placements for our children in safe neighborhoods. But, what would they say the first time Aaron spilled stuff, or had a toileting accident on the new sofa?

Susan, said she would ask the landlord about accepting the Section 8 housing choice voucher, but we worried about that too?

So, stay tuned. All kinds of interesting things happened the next Wed. evening.

TEASER: The young man turns out to be Andy. Yea, the person from House #2 who punched a hole in the wall and drove the van into two of the neighbor’s houses.

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” Helen Keller.


Any thoughts? I love for you to share your stories in the comments and social media. What would you look for when you were trying to find a home for your child? Many parents of typical kids help their children paint and buy a room of furniture, maybe some appliances. Can you see a difference in what a parent must do, if your child has a disability?

Would it make a difference if Aaron was in the home first and he got to choose the second/third person?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.

All my best,


Searching for a Roommate: Medicaid Waiver Style| Part 7

Fiat 238E
Creative Commons License photo credit: piermario

Searching for a Roommate: Medicaid Waiver style| Part 7

This is Part 7 in a series of posts about moving my son Aaron, who has the label of autism, from one county to the adjoining county where we live. If you want the background click on Searching for a Roommate: Medicaid Waiver Style| Part 6


I can’t say enough good things about both the HUD counselors in the sending and the receiving counties. They are terrific and I feel they are rooting for us, and hoping Aaron can find a place to live which will accept his housing choice voucher, an appropriate roommate with matching Medicaid Waivers for quality residential care, and a happy life.

What a blessing.

That said, we filed for the time extension and learned that for an uninterrupted rent subsidy to go through, our letter, the letters from the receiving county, and the landlord had to be filed by the 20th of the month and I would need to go to their office to sign the papers. So, still some work to do, but at least now I know the rules.

Roommate Search

In Part 6, I told about our meetings with the first proposed roommate and his parents. Here is our meeting with Roommate #2.

Roommate #2: Van into houses

We scheduled the visit to Potential Roommate #2’s house on a lovely evening. We parked the car and waved to the neighbors who were watering flowers and taking out the trash cans. They seemed friendly, but were clearly checking us out.

Aaron, Tom and I arrived about 7:pm and met Barney, a young man in his early 20’s, his parents, the head of the agency that provided the residential care, her elderly mother, and a college student who was the staff person on duty. The DD Support Coordinator who was assigned to this house was not able to come, but since the clock is ticking we wanted to move forward and he arranged the visit.

Former Roommate Andy

Everyone was pleasant and they told us they were very anxious to find a roommate because Andy, the previous roommate, did not work out. Apparently, Andy was dual diagnosed with some mental health as well as intellectual disability labels and he took the staff’s car keys, started the van and drove into two houses on the street. (No wonder the neighbors were so intense.)

So, Andy no longer lived there.

Well, okay, after that story we figured Aaron would be a breeze.

Parents believe in Segregation

Barney’s mother said she taught in the local school district and was proud they were going to start “Autism Only” classes next year.

The Dad told us he was very active in Special Olympics.


We had been told Barney liked sports, so we brought him a Starting Lineup Figure so Aaron and Barney would have a positive first interaction of Aaron giving something to Barney.

Barney likes to fish

One of the first questions we were asked was if Aaron liked to fish. In the back of the house was a fishing lake and Barney spent much of his free time standing on the side of the lake.

Barney didn’t like all the people in his living room and seemed quite anxious. When the staff person opened the back door, Barney shot down to the lake.

Tom, Aaron and I went in the backyard and noticed the yard sloped down toward the lake, there were no fences, and the weeds were very tall. Immediately, we worried that Aaron, who has terrible balance issues and often wanders off, would fall down into the lake. Based on our previous experience with inexperienced, lazy staff, and their story about Andy smashing the van into houses and almost killing himself, we wondered how safe Aaron would be.

Parents Own the House

The house was owned by Barney’s parents.

His mom apologized for the way the house looked so beat up and explained that as soon as the school year was over she planned on painting and doing a deep cleaning in the house. The parents also did all the lawn care which also needed some attention. This made us feel a little better because the rugs were stained, and the whole place just didn’t look clean.

The house was a traditional two-story with a kitchen, ½ bath, and combined dining/living area on the first floor. Three bedrooms and 2 baths up.

There were not really enough chairs for everyone, and the elderly woman was sitting in a broken reclining chair.
The upstairs had a master suite (bed and bath) that Barney used (which was filthy and cluttered). There was another bath and two additional bedrooms which were nice. The closet was full size, not as large as Aaron’s current closet, but at least the clothes would fit on the hanger, you didn’t have to hang the clothes sidewise like the closet in rural house #1.

There was a large hole in the wall at the top of the stairs. We were told Andy, the old roommate, had punched the wall, and again, after school was out, they would be repainting and repairing the wall.


Aaron was noisy, but as we were sizing up how he and Barney might get along, they were also sizing us up. We got the feeling they were hoping for someone who was higher functioning, and someone who would want to spend long periods of time at the fishing lake with Barney. Neither Barney nor Aaron spoke any words but they would watch each other.

We told them we had concerns about the stairs and the fishing lake. We told them Aaron gets sunburn in about 10 minutes (he has red hair, is very fair, and has a family history of skin cancer).

Aaron’s ISP (Individual Service Plan) requires a staff person to always be within hearing distance of Aaron and he would NEVER be allowed to be outside alone. The head of the residential company assured us she would be able to hire staff, Aaron would never be alone and this was doable.

The parents were actively involved in Barney’s life, but Barney didn’t go home for the weekends like Aaron. He stayed at the house all the time, except Christmas and special occasions.

We also learned that Andy, the old roommate had a HUD housing choice voucher. The father told us he accepted the HUD and got the house HUD approved, but his son couldn’t get the rent discount because of the “parents owning the house rule.” He did say the county paid a “rent subsidy” out of county “bridge” funds.

We had a pleasant conversation and both families were to go home and think about it.

The mother walked us to the car, and as we pulled away, both neighbors came to talk with her. I’m guessing they were as worried about the new roommate (Aaron) as we were worried about them. If someone drove a van into my house, I’d want to check out the new roommate too!

This decision was not as clear cut as our previous visit to house #1. Aaron didn’t give us any feedback, positive or negative, so we debated the pros and cons.


Ultimately, we called the family and told them we didn’t think this was going to work for Aaron.

We were just not confident about the supervision of the residential company (and there can only be one company for the whole house) and we had concerns about the stairs and the lake.

One visit was really not enough to tell how Barney and Aaron would get along, but we decided to keep looking.

The other take-away is that once again, the family owned the house but didn’t maintain it as well as Tom and I would expect. I’m not sure how the family would accept our help to plant flowers and pull weeds. They were very proud of it, just the way it was, holes in walls, dirty carpet, broken furniture was just the way things were and would get fixed someday.

I didn’t want to have to worry about “normalization” and “social role valorization” and our house being the worst on the street. With their philosophical bent toward segregated “autism only classes” and “special olympics” I just didn’t think it would work.

The information about a person with a disability being able to use his HUD housing choice voucher in another parent’s home was an interesting idea and one we might be able to use later.

So, strike 2. The next post will be about visit #3. Wait until you hear some of the surprises.


Any thoughts? I love for you to share your stories in the comments and social media.

So, do you think parents owning the house is a good/bad idea? Would it make a difference if Aaron was in the home first and he got to choose the second person? Should we be looking to a non-profit to own the homes? A traditional landlord? Can we trust the residential company when the previous person had enough time to start the van and run it into two houses?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.

All my best,