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Success Stories >> Ryan King’s Story

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Ryan King is a D.C. resident in his late twenties who has been challenged by a number of health issues and disabilities, including cerebral palsy, impaired language and cognitive functions, and sickle cell anemia. In spite of these challenges, Ryan successfully completed high school, has worked in the same job for over ten years, and has achieved an increasing level of independence. With a positive attitude and a great sense of humor, Ryan enjoys a range of interests and activities, including volunteer and advocacy work. In Ryan's family an important principle is "A person who says 'I'll try' has a chance to succeed, but a person who says 'I can't' is already a failure."

Medical/Health

What advice do you have for people looking for employment?

Dress for success, be nice, and be on time.

Ryan was born—more than two months early—with severely damaged lungs and sickle cell anemia. Bleeding in the brain caused seizures and impaired his language and cognitive functions, as well as his vision. When he was young, every three weeks or so there would be a sickle cell crisis; however, in his twenties his health has stabilized. His muscles, including facial muscles, can become very stiff, but with ongoing physical therapy his condition has improved. Ryan utilizes Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance, and private insurance.

Education

Ryan was at the Hospital for Sick Children from 18 months to 5 years old in the preschool program. This day program gave him a foundation in language, crawling, and walking. He attended Sharpe Health School from 5 to 12 years of age, where he received needed support services—language, occupational therapy (OT), adaptive physical education, etc. Susie King's advice to parents is

    It is OK to put your kid in the community school—it saves so much on travel time. Parents should know that the school needs to provide whatever services are needed for their child's welfare. The school must put the resources in place, but parents need to make sure that the resources are there and work on the attitude of the adults. We had to learn to push and teach. You have to be persistent. Be pleasant, but determined. Have a positive attitude as a parent and be willing to work with everyone. Research and advocate!

At 12, Ryan went to the Takoma Educational Center, an inclusion program in the public schools that provided an environment to gradually learn to do many things for himself. Ryan was pulled from class for special instruction from resource teachers in math, reading, and adaptive physical education. Part of Ryan's education focused on "mastering his space." For example, Ryan's visual issues make stairs very difficult. At first, he used the elevator at the school. The teacher assigned a student buddy to help him get around, and he gradually got to the point where he could use the stairs.

After that, Ryan went to Roosevelt Senior High School/Sharpe Health Satellite Program for a couple of years to continue to build his skills and increase independence. He participated in the regular curriculum in a nongraded program. An aide accompanied him, and the assignments were adjusted to fit his level. He did all the school activities, including prom, which stands out as a special memory for Ryan. Susie King says, "They got him involved in everything, even signed him up for a barber class. I thought that was crazy at first because of his perception issues, but they did it for his socialization, and it worked out great." Ryan stayed in school until he was 20.

Employment

Ryan participated in the Marriott Foundation Bridges program during high school. The Bridges program assists individuals with intellectual disabilities get a competitive job placement and strengthen employment-related skills, such as resume help, dressing right, interviewing and on the job coaching. Ryan got a job at Safeway and has worked there for nearly ten years, including joining the union. He works three mornings per week, the same schedule as when he was in school. Ryan's advice for others is "to dress for success, be nice, and be on time." He points out that not everyone does these things and it is difficult to be successful without them.

Ryan also volunteers at his church and a local arts program. He likes having the opportunity to give back.

Legal/Advocacy

The doctors did not give Ryan's parents much hope at the beginning. Local support and advocacy groups helped both Ryan and his parents learn about his disabilities and health issues and gave them the strength to exceed all expectations. Two of the most important were Howard University's Parents Sickle Cell Support Group and D.C. Parents and Friends of Children with Special Needs. Educating themselves and working to support Ryan brought the family closer together. Now Ryan is working on how to be an advocate for himself. He is learning to be forceful, not to look to his parents, to speak for himself. Susie's advice to parents is:

  • Get over your guilt. Seek to learn. You must understand what your rights are. Learn that you are not alone. Talk to others about what you are going through. You need the support of other parents dealing with the same disabilities. Reach out to support groups. The support groups are so important. There are lots of groups in D.C. You need to find the ones that are the right fit for you. D.C. has the headquarters for the national groups of all different disabilities. Contact them and work down to the local level from there. I didn't know much about sickle cell before Ryan was born. I got a lot of information from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and their support.

As an adult, Ryan continues to draw strength from local support groups and to give back as an advocate for people with disabilities. Recently he participated in the Entrepreneurial Program by the Inclusion Research Institute, which got him thinking of starting his own business. He also participates in the Youth Empowerment Advocacy Resource Center group and is a board member. He is a consumer representative, providing feedback on health-care policy and laws, to the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, which includes government, professionals, consumers, and advocates. Ryan likes to be involved and participate—"The best part is that you get to give back and you meet a lot of people."

Transportation

Ryan can travel by himself. He is eligible to receive transportation through MetroAccess, and the family learned that it is better for him to be able to do it by himself. Ryan was given a one-day training by Metro on how to ride the bus, but was unable to handle the bus changes that occur. Recently, he successfully figured out how to handle the Metro rate change.

Recreation

Ryan loves sports and music, and both are a big part of his life. His most recent concert was going to see Jay-Z with a childhood friend. Ryan’s favorite sports are basketball, football, and wrestling. In high school, the Make a Wish Foundation gave the family a trip to Tampa to see Stone Cold Steve Austin. Ryan and his family had their own limo. The hotel and tickets were in Ryan's name. He was so excited and happy that they made him the Make a Wish honor representative for the mid-Atlantic region that year.

Ryan has been to Las Vegas twice and loves it. Susie King says, "He likes the shows, the crowds, and the lights. He stays up all night. He played in a $5 Monopoly game. He was smart—he won $11 and cashed out." Ryan participates at church through Sunday lessons and monthly sing, praise, and social events. He volunteers and enjoys dances, trips, and a drama program for people with disabilities.

Social Development

Ryan's language was delayed, but he worked hard and has far exceeded the initial expectations of what he could accomplish. Susie King says, "He had to work for all the things we take for granted—walking, speaking, on so on. He shouldn't have the language ability that he does. The doctors have told us that it is because we have always talked to him a great deal." Ryan is good natured and always smiling, positive. He continues to impress family and friends with his sense of humor and accomplishments. Once his mother observed that he wasn't smiling in his prom pictures, and he pointed out, "'Well, it was a serious moment." Another time a family friend was showing him a video game that cost $75. The friend said that he would provide $50, but that Ryan would have to come up with the rest. He figured out on his own that he needed $25.

Independent Living

The issue of independent living comes up with Ryan periodically. His mother jokes that he threatens it when he doesn't want to do housework. Ryan and his family are exploring options for Ryan to move out, but Ryan is not quite ready yet. At home, he works on becoming more independent. He can stay in the house by himself all day and lets himself in and out. His family pays attention to his current needs as they evolve, making adjustments and solving problems as necessary. For example, his keys are different sizes and labeled with different colors. They labeled the washer and dryer when he wanted to help with the laundry. He can prepare sandwiches by himself but uses the stove only when others are home. He also uses the microwave oven. Susie King says, "We allow him to have choices. There are some things that we might have to decide for him, but we always make sure that he is making decisions about his life, too."


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