Not long ago T.J. spent most of his time at home. If he did go out, the 18-year-old usually kept to himself, rarely interacting with anyone, let alone other teenagers. A trip to the mall for T.J. was an hour or two alone playing video games at Game Stop.
Concerned about her son’s social skills, Melissa Sones talked with Melinda Odum, a Support Coordinator at Boone County Family Resources, about pairing T.J. with a personal assistant. They hoped the help and encouragement would inspire T.J. to get out of the house and meet other people, maybe even develop a circle of friends.
Little did they know the extent to which a personal assistant would change T.J.’s life.
“It’s been amazing,” Melissa said about her son, who has cerebral palsy. “He’s grown up. He has become more responsible, independent and wants to go out on his own.
“He has even learned how to express himself in an appropriate way,” she added.
About 18 months ago Keegan Callow began seeing T.J. two or three times a week for about three to five hours a visit. The main goals were to improve T.J.’s social skills and his ability to handle money. They ventured to high school football games, shopped at the mall and ate at local restaurants. At first, T.J. wasn’t keen on the arrangement.
“I wouldn’t say he was resistant,” Keegan said. “He was reserved. If we went somewhere, he would not initiate conversations. I wouldn’t say he was shy; he just didn’t know how to talk to people.”
T.J. also did not know how to count money, which made shopping and going out to eat impossible on his own.
Despite T.J.’s reservations, Keegan, a MU student majoring in social work, remained committed. Before long, his fledgling began to blossom. Over the months, the two have added a number of new locations to their list of places to go, including the MU computer lab and Wii night at Services for Independent Living, where most participants know T.J. by name. T.J. is also learning how to interact with others through social media.
“Now he talks from the minute I pick him up to the moment I drop him off,” Keegan said. “He goes out of his way to talk with people, especially girls.”
T.J.’s ability to handle money is improving, too. Now he can count money and is developing a better understanding of monetary transactions.
Melissa said he son’s overall demeanor has changed.
“He pays more attention and is more respectful and listens,” she said, adding that T.J.’s behavior at school has also improved. “Teachers are more eager to help him when he is more respectful. In the past, he’s been resistant and rude at times.”
Even at home, where T.J. would sometimes lash out in frustration, Melissa said her son is learning to handle his emotions.
“If he’s mad, Keegan has taught him how to talk about being mad instead of lashing out,” she said. “Now he tells me how he feels. He’s learned to express himself in an appropriate way.”
Melinda, T.J.’s SC at BCFR, said she believes T.J.’s behavior has improved because he is able to get out of the house and reduce his frustration. “It is also because he has something to look forward to each week,” she added.
T.J. continues to work on expressing his emotions as well as being honest and remaining safe in inclement weather and around strangers. His enthusiasm for learning has made a deep impression on Keegan.
“He was the first person I ever worked with” as a personal assistant, he said. “I really didn’t know what to expect. He has helped me get comfortable with the job and to understand other people better.
“I would say we are friends,” Keegan added. “We have an awful lot in common.”