Sunday, March 04, 2007

College Challenges

“Christine” is a fun-loving, self-motivated sophomore at a major state university located a few hours from her home. She candidly shared her transition-to-college experiences. In her senior year of high school, Christine searched for a college that had wheelchair accessible academic facilities and dormitories as well as strong, reliable support services.

For all students, heading off to college for the first time presents new challenges. For Christine, one of those challenges was hiring, meeting, and adjusting to caregivers other than her parents. Several weeks before school started, her university's Office of Disability Support Services gave Christine a list of townspeople interested in employment as a personal assistant. Christine interviewed applicants over the telephone, and, sight unseen, hired those she thought best qualified. On the first day of school, after her parents helped her get settled in her dorm room, one of her newly hired personal assistants helped Christine with her nighttime needs.

Christine needs a personal assistant twice a day, in the morning to help her get out of bed and ready for the day and in the evening to help her get ready for bed. Throughout the day, Christine receives meal setup help from food service personnel, and help from friends with any tasks that she is unable to do independently. With the help of her professors, she hires classmates to take notes for her.

One who is inexperienced with service providers might think that once Christine hired a few personal assistants from the school's list, she was set for the school year. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dealing with all aspects of caregiver issues is a constant challenge. Christine says it's the biggest challenge of college life. Her personal assistants have not always been reliable; Christine was stuck in bed one morning when one assistant failed to show! A few of her assistants have been incompetent; some have treated her rudely or condescendingly. Christine has fired assistants. In addition, she has had to deal with a high turnover rate, teaching each new assistant how to meet her needs.

Now that Christine is in the middle of her second year at college, she has found that she prefers finding her personal assistants from among her fellow college students rather than from the Office of Disability Support Services’ list of townspeople. She feels more capable of judging in advance whether the college students will work out work out because she knows them personally. Christine has been more successful at finding respectful, competent assistants from among her peers. To deal with turnover issues, Christine always a few backup assistants ready so that she can assured of being functional each and every day.

Some of Christine's personal assistants have been her friends. This situation requires some special attention. On the one hand, Christine likes having a friend as a personal assistant, because she has a trustworthy, respectful caregiver who knows her needs. On the other hand, Christine recognizes that there is a potential for a strain on the friendship. Christine openly discusses this risk with her friend, emphasizing that the friendship is more important than the assistant position.

Christine's transition to college has been successful. She loves being able to live independently and is enjoying college life. She has developed wonderful friendships. An observation that Christine made is that college students are better able than high school students to look past superficial differences to form genuine friendships.

Christine's long-term plans include a graduate degree in social work, with the goal of working in disability advocacy.


Nico Echols said...

That sounds like my situation, but with a difference. I need help getting to and from my classes, help with laundry and cleaning, getting safely in and out of the shower, and help getting food from the cafeteria. Regardless of the things I need help with, I am still able to enjoy what college life has to offer me. Hey, I'm just about to make it through my first year at UIS, without my mom around to help me.

David said...

Congratulations on almost completing your first year.