Matt is an outgoing, friendly, happy guy with a beaming smile who enjoys bowling, baseball, basketball, riding his bike, traveling and much more. He has been bowling since he was young and earned a place on the JV bowling team when he was in high school. Now he bowls as part of a team with his dad in a league that plays weekly.
After a referral from Summit DD, Matt explored different options available at UDS through the Gears summer program for high school students. As a young adult who is full of energy and enjoys helping people, Matt is a great fit for UDS’ volunteer program, BraVo! (Building Relationships and Volunteer Opportunities). Courtney Deal, BraVo! program supervisor, says, “When Matt came to us in 2013 after high school he had a rough start because our program is completely different from what he was used to at school. With the support of his parents, working with us to help us figure out ways to help him adjust, he is now doing very well. I can’t imagine him being anywhere else.” He is a hard worker who loves going out into the community and working on in-house projects as well. Matt’s parents, Carolyn and Jerry, say he loves coming to BraVo! and talks about it on the weekends in anticipation of the UDS bus picking him up so he can return to see everyone again.
Both Matt and his older sister have autism. Sensory integration has been a big part of their success (joint compression, weighted vest, trampoline and a swing that wraps around Matt, calming him if he’s feeling over-stimulated or anxious). With a background in engineering, Carolyn says, “The way I am has led more toward the examination of how to get the kids to do the things they need to do and learn. Jerry has been the very calm rock. He’s always there for us, always supportive, always got Matt to baseball and was the baseball coach. So it has been a real team effort.” As a retired teacher, Jerry adds, “The awareness helped me in my teaching. I wanted things now. Right now. But when you have two kids with disabilities, now is not now, it’s somewhere down the road. It also gives you a lot more compassion.”
Matt has enjoyed going to high school football games, movies, hikes and other community activities accompanied by college-age caregivers. Some have known him for so long he has become like family to them and they’ve invited him to weddings and other events. Carolyn encourages parents to consider outside assistance. “I don’t think parents should hesitate to say you can’t do it all. Let those caregivers be in the community with your kids because they are not you. They are somebody new and they have a different piece to add to enrich their lives.”
Every person is unique, gifted with different abilities and interests. Recognizing our differences and similarities leads to awareness and, hopefully, acceptance. By sharing Matt’s story UDS celebrates the abilities that each person has to offer during DD Awareness Month. To learn more about Matt and see him in action volunteering in the community and knocking down some bowling pins, go to www.udstv.org and click on Matt’s Story.
Join UDS in March and throughout the year by celebrating abilities and promoting inclusion of individuals with disabilities!