Elizabeth: A Place of Her Own

Produced in 2012 (Run time 5:54)

Christine Lerchen: When Liz was born, it was like what the heck? This can't be happening. I was just, just devastated. We were going to the birthing room and everything was just going to be so peachy and wonderful because we were going to do all this natural childbirth stuff. And, and then she turned out to be breech, and when they did the x-ray, there was a lot of Oh, my gosh from the nurses and so I knew a lot was going on.

Tom Lerchen: I walked through the doors. They pushed the bassinet with Elizabeth in front of us. It was the most powerful moment of my life. I mean it was instant love like that.

Christine Lerchen: Then my husband came in and talked about how beautiful she was and how she looked just like him and how excited he was to have to her. It just totally, it was like this turmoil of negativity, but yet he's happy and it's like Well, I should be happy too. But I'm so worried about this baby an whether or not this baby is going to survive.

Tom Lerchen: We didn't know that she was going to have developmental disabilities at the time and we thought, we were hoping that she didn't. But, nonetheless, we just planned that she would live to her maximal potential, whatever that would be.

Christine Lerchen: It just kind of went from her birth of being, you know, very devastated to that reality of we have this baby girl that's adorable and happy and pretty easygoing that's surviving some pretty challenging therapies and surgeries, and now going into school and now looking at what education is, which is planning for your future, and then actually realizing that she is competent and has skills.

We started learning about inclusion when she was like 4 years old. We always wanted her included. We wanted her to achieve goals. We wanted her to learn to be socially appropriate and just treated like everyone else.

What we learned was that students thrived, that the community became accepting, that it opened doors for her as an adult because it would be relationships that would build upon her skills and her abilities and her acceptance.

Tom Lerchen: Liz is 31 years old. She has been living on her own for about 5 years.

Michelle Demond: Elizabeth is the owner of this condo that we're at, and I take care of her.

Christine Lerchen: Liz has always had full time aide. Liz needs a lot of support, so she's always has what's called a para pro in the special ed programs.

Michelle Demond: It's almost like a sister bond because I've been with her for so long. A lot of people think that... It's like, No, we fight all the time. I'm like sometimes she gets mad when I watch too much music videos or when I watch a movie and she doesn't want to. Anything that I would do, she would do too.

We go to Panera and grab a coffee and kind of socialize over there. Go grocery shopping, getting things for the house. We go to Target, kind of see clothes. We go to the mall and we hang out with friends. Have a little social gathering here. All right. Am I boring you, Liz?

Tom Lerchen: We've allowed Liz to take risks in her life. And because of those risks she's taken, she's done things that Chris and I will say, Wow!

Jan Vesscelius: Liz was a child when she started, so she's been with us many, many years. The benefits are huge and they're multiples. There's exercise, recreation, social, interactive. There's bonding.

She has progressed in her riding to that she turns her horse and she signals the leader when she needs to turn, when she wants to walk on, when she wants to whoa. She's a very opinionated young woman. She knows what she likes. She knows what she likes to do.

Tom Lerchen: Progressive and as open as we tried to be in our beliefs and everything, we had no idea how much she would progress. How she would grow. How she would change.

woman: She has responsibilities in the week. She has to go to work. We start off, we punch in unusually two hours a day. We really want her to be in the public's eyes. We are in charge of pricing and returning the products that people don't like. I make sure that she does the best of her ability. I don't do the job for her. I just make sure that she's there doing the best that she can do.

Tom Lerchen: The first thing that all parents think about, and I think particularly parents with children with disabilities, is their safety. And some parents don't let go. That's easy.

Elizabeth doesn't talk. I can't let her go here. She can't go there. What happens if she falls? What happens if this happens? You know what? All those things have happened. She's not made out of china. She's a young woman, and she's fine.

Christine Lerchen: And it all has to do with the opportunities that we've given her. We aren't special people. We learned things. We took the initiative to learn, to find resources and to find opportunities for Liz, to give her experiences and to help her grow, just like you do with any child.

And other parents thought that we were just bucking the system and trying to be difficult people because we wanted inclusion and we wanted her to be self-determined and give her opportunities instead of just take of her like some poor sap. And she's not a poor sap. She's a person with a lot of potential and ability, and it's paid off

For more information visit the DDI web site at http://ddi.wayne.edu