Building independence: The first step is the hardest, for a family and their daughter

For a moment, Bob and his wife Puja faced their worst fears.

It was the first day of college for their daughter Roshni, and they had worked tirelessly to prepare her for the trip alone on Vancouver’s buses and Skytrain to reach her classes. Douglas College was on the phone; Roshni had not shown up!

Roshni, an outgoing young woman, was going to college to pursue her dream to run a food business. She had to travel from Coquitlam to New Westminster on her own to get to classes – it was a requirement for being accepted into Douglas College. Roshni would have to get on a shuttlebus to the bus loop, transfer to a bus to the Braid train station, and then take the Skytrain to New Westminster.

They had developed a plan. First, Bob travelled with Roshni the entire route several times, pointing out the details of every change, showing where she had to get off and where she had to get on, teaching her to look for the bus numbers and highlighting every other detail along the way. After a few days, when Roshni was comfortable, Bob told Roshni to lead him on the route. Whenever she got stuck, he would help her think about it. He let her know mistakes were okay, and taught her to look for someone in a uniform to ask for help. Finally, Bob let her go on her own, and he followed.

Create a plan, take small steps

“In her mind, she was going on her own,” says Bob. “By following her, it was more about us getting over our own fear that she would be okay.”

Finally the first day of school arrived. Bob and Puja sent Roshni off, and they went off to work. And then the college called.

Bob and his wife had a moment of panic.

They soon learned that there had been a problem. The Skytrain had stopped mid-station.  People were asked to get off and take a bus. Roshni froze.

As a safety measure, Roshni was given a cell phone. When they heard from the college, Puja began calling Roshni. At first there was no answer but finally Roshni picked up and Puja was able to talk her through to find someone who could help.

Bob recalls that, amazingly, the Skytrain mishap became a blessing. Roshni realized she would be okay, and could get through it. She did not freeze again.

If you let go of your fears, opportunities will open up

Roshni went on to complete her courses at Douglas College; continue her studies in Food services at Vancouver Community College and start her own chutney business, Rosh’s Chutneys (www.roshschutneys.com).

Today she attends the University of British Columbia (UBC) with the support of Steps Forward, the BC Initiative for Inclusive Post Secondary Education. She makes the trek from Coquitlam out to UBC four days a week on her own, where she takes classes, has some extra curricular activities and has even found a part-time volunteer position.

Bob, who works at the Family Support Institute and with the Family WORKs program, says that sometimes fears go against parents, “But if you let go of your fears, opportunities open up.”

Bob and Puja admit their fears: fear for Roshni’s safety, and fear someone will take advantage of her. But as parents, they also wanted to support her dreams to have her own food business, and to attend university like her older sister.

“Find out what your children want,” says Bob. “No matter what the disability, you can engage and learn to understand what they want, and encourage them to go past their comfort level. Often this means you need to go past your comfort level, first.”

“You still need to be vigilant, and I’m not saying you should abdicate responsibility,” says Bob. “But give them the tools and encourage them to become independent.”

Roshni was afraid to go on the bus by herself. She had never done it. But Bob and Puja have encouraged her to voice her fears, and find ways to address them. “Frank and honest conversations are very important.”

Roshni received the Outstanding Alumni award for 2016 from Vancouver Community College and has been asked to speak to VCC’s graduating class this November.

What advice do you have, Bob, for parents working with CLBC to build the independence of your family member?

“Meet with your CLBC Facilitator, and put forward your dreams. They need to get to know your family member. Work together with the Facilitator to think outside the box.  The Facilitator knows what resources exist in the community, and the better he or she knows you, the more likely you are to find the right supports.  It’s about finding support to take small steps that lead to more independence.”

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