When Brenda, then a physical-therapist technician at the San Antonio State School, began caring for Armando in a rehabilitation program, she didn’t know that someday she would be his foster mother and legal guardian. But in May, Armando, who had lived in state schools, including San Antonio’s, since he was 4, moved in with Brenda. “I met him and even other people said he had an attachment to me,” she recalls. “A bond is there.”
Although he is one of seven children, “all he’s known is institutions; he’s never known family,” says Brenda, who resigned from SASS in 1998 and now works for a private home-health-care company.
As a 1-year-old, Armando suffered a bout of meningitis that left him profoundly retarded and with uncontrollable epilepsy. He can suffer as many as 100 seizures a day and functions at the level of a 12-to-18-month old. He doesn’t speak, but he’s quite expressive, using different sounds, laughs, and facial expressions to communicate. “He doesn’t know anything is wrong with him. This is normal to him.”
After resigning from SASS, Brenda continued to visit Armando at the state school twice a week. His family was uninvolved, and Brenda spoke with his biological mother about becoming his legal guardian; later, his mother agreed. After contacting Armando’s siblings and father, who didn’t oppose the guardianship, the court appointed Brenda his guardian; she later became his foster mother.
While Armando was on a waiting list for community services, Brenda looked into small group homes, but found none that she felt met his physical and emotional needs. In one home, all the bedrooms were upstairs; Armando doesn’t walk well. It also had many glass mirrors on the walls; if he had a seizure and fell into one, he could have been cut.
“I thought I could take care of him at home,” she says.
After waiting more than a year to be discharged from SASS, Armando, 35, moved in with Brenda, who had become certified as an adult foster-care provider, her partner, and an aunt. Brenda’s parents live next door.
A typical day begins with Brenda grinding Armando’s meals into a purée. If he isn’t having seizures, he attends a day program where, for four to six hours, he plays and can participate in other activities, including arts and crafts.
“He’s adapted really well,” Brenda says. “He’s getting a lot of interaction.”
For the next nine months, independent case managers will evaluate Armando’s condition and progress in the home. If they determine foster care isn’t best for him, Armando could move back to the state school or to a group home.
“I’ve changed things in my life for him,” says Brenda. “Armando always comes first.”
State schools should be closed, Brenda says, but there isn’t enough funding to accommodate the residents’ needs in the community. “Everybody needs a chance not to be in a state school. Even in a smaller facility, they have a chance to have something of their own. It’s hard to find community-based settings for some with developmental disabilities. But even people who can only blink their eyes, somebody’s in there; these people need affection.”
By Lisa Sorg
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