Local families learn developmental disabilities don't have to mean dependence

'It's been the best thing for him'

CINCINNATI -- When Joe Laage's older sister graduated from high school and left for college, he naturally started asking when it would be his turn to live on his own.

But that question was complicated for his parents, Beth and Mike, because Laage and his older brother, Michael, both have developmental disabilities. Since their sons were little, the Laages had assumed they would live with them until a crisis forced a change.

"You're never ready, I don't think, for your kids to go," Mike Laage said. "But with the additional issues, you're definitely not. You worry."


The Laages are far from alone. Across the country, millions of Baby Boomer parents of children with developmental disabilities are facing the reality that their adult sons and daughters will outlive them and need someplace to go.

RELATED: ReelAbilities Film Festival starts Thursday

Ohio officials refer to the phenomenon as the "silver tsunami," said Susan Brownknight. She's executive director of the nonprofit organization LADD, which stands for Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled.

"There is a crisis," Brownknight said. "Parents, as they age, reach a point where they could no longer care for their child who has only ever lived with them."

It doesn't have to be that way. LADD is one of several local organizations that offer programs for people with developmental disabilities to help them live independently. While more options are needed, Brownknight said, many parents aren't even aware of the resources that do exist.

Susan Brownknight

The Laages are now. Beth Laage learned about LADD's Find A Way apartments several years ago. She and her husband took their sons to tour the place and were impressed with what they saw. Both Joe and Michael Laage filled out paperwork to become residents, and Joe Laage, now 35, got the call that an apartment was available for him in March 2011.

"It's been the best thing for him as an individual," Mike Laage said. "When you're a parent, the question is 'can he do this or can't he do that?' We were more controlling. And the best thing that ever happened was for him to leave the house and have his own freedom."

'Do not wait until it's a crisis'

Brownknight and her staff hear from parents like the Laages every day.

"We often hear the first thought that goes through a parent's mind when they find out their children has a developmental disability is, 'What will happen when I'm gone?'" she said.

LADD is working to educate families about the options that are out there and to encourage parents to start talking with their children about becoming independent.

Most people with developmental disabilities leave high school when they are 22, she said. LADD has programs to start working with them as teens to help them prepare to leave their parents' homes.

Some of it is a matter of changing the minds of the teens and young adults themselves, she said.

"Often people with developmental disabilities think they need to be taken care of, and that's often not the case," Brownknight said. "They need the skills just like any young person needs the skills to live on their own."

LADD's residential programs include Find A Way in Oakley and Margaret B. Geier Apartments in Kennedy Heights. Each location has 39 tenants. The organization's Victory Parkway Campus has a choice of either living in a group home or a one-bedroom apartment with LADD staff there to provide support.

Find A Way in Oakley

The organization also has a program to help clients become homeowners or find affordable housing in addition to adult foster care services, employment assistance and a program called Community Connections that helps people with developmental disabilities explore their interests.

Parents need to know that programs and services are available to help their children become more independent as they grow older, Brownknight said.

"If you do have a child with developmental disabilities, seek support now," she said. "Do not wait until it's a crisis."

The power of mutual respect

The Laages couldn't be more pleased that they didn't wait.

Joe Laage said he likes his apartment and the freedom that comes with it.

"It's close to everything," he said. "I can get out. It's close to Hyde Park and Clifton and that."

The apartment building is near a bus stop, and Joe Laage takes the bus to his job with the Cincinnati Parks Department, to explore nature at Ault Park and to other nearby activities. He even has taken the bus to Kings Island a few times, he said.

One of Joe Laage's collections.

Mike and Beth Laage beamed as their son talked about his independence.

The Laages also have two daughters who do not have developmental disabilities, and they didn't want their sons' sisters to feel obliged to care for their brothers long term, Mike Laage said.

"We're going to die before them, and then the question is where," Mike Laage said. "It worked out."

Now the Laages are waiting for it to work out for their older son, Michael, too. Joe Laage filed his application for an apartment about 30 seconds faster than his brother, Mike Laage said. And that small difference has resulted in a years-long wait because the Find A Way apartments are so popular.

Meanwhile, Joe Laage is paving the way. When his parents and older brother visit and go out to eat at nearby restaurants, the restaurant employees usually know Joe, Mike Laage said.

The Laage family. Standing behind Joe Laage are, from left, Mike, Michael and Beth Laage.

On his own, he has become part of the community.

That, said Brownknight, is critically important for anyone with developmental disabilities.

"I can't emphasize enough that the key to creating an inclusive community -- and a community where parents know that their child is going to be OK -- is for all of us to assume understanding," she said. "It is unbelievable the power associated with treating someone who has a disability like you would treat anyone else."

The 2017 Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival kicks off Thursday March 9. The event showcases award-winning films by and about people with disabilities followed by discussions to embrace and celebrate differences and the experiences and emotions that everyone shares. More information about the film festival is available on the event's website or Facebook page.

More information about LADD, the film festival's organizer, is available here.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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