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Life on Farm Is a Step Toward Independence : Developmentally Disabled Adults Learn to Go It Alone

February 23, 1987|KAREN KENYON

RAMONA — His hopes and plans don't sound that different from those of any other 21-year-old. He wants to graduate, get a job and talks of marriage someday to his girlfriend, Anne.

But for Jim Carteron, these goals, while attainable, will not come easily. Carteron is considered developmentally disabled and is one of 6,500 adults registered as such with San Diego Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled.

Carteron lives with 10 other residents at Laddi Farm, a residential-academic facility for developmentally disabled adults (18 to 64) designed to help them reach a goal of semi-independent living and part-time work. Laddi Farm is outside of Ramona, surrounded by trees, cactuses and hills.

It is unique both because of its setting and because it contains a residence and a school, according to Carol Fitzgibbons of the Regional Center, which funds and monitors programs.

"Most clients live in residential facilities and go to programs in the community. They don't live in the academic setting. There is not another program like it."

In addition, according to the Regional Center, no other educational program for the developmentally disabled in San Diego focuses on academic skills like Laddi Farm does. Most are vocationally oriented.

The center defines developmental disability as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism or other conditions similar to retardation. These conditions must have originated before age 18 and constitute a substantial handicap that is likely to continue indefinitely.

Staff at Laddi Farm say most residents were born with their disability. Others were abused children or were injured in accidents.

Carteron has been at Laddi Farm for two years, and for more than a year has worked part-time at a gas station in Ramona.

"I came up here to learn independence . . . to learn to live on my own. It's a good place to make friends, too. I have a girlfriend here, and when I graduate, we'll get married."

Carteron said he was in another school before coming to Laddi Farm. "All we did were games and puzzles. Here I'm learning independent thinking."

Indeed, the goal at Laddi Farm is to prepare its students for participation in society.

Carteron's mother, Shirley, recently attended the graduation of two students. "It was a wonderful experience--emotional. All the parents were there. It was fascinating."

Graduation Goals

The goals for graduation at Laddi Farm are twofold, according to Lee Dobrowolski, one of two academic instructors at the school.

"First, a student needs to meet several academic requirements, including writing, reading comprehension, math, career education and development of self-concept. In addition, they are trained in survival skills, including first aid (and how to place) a 911 phone call," Dobrowolski said.

"It's a comprehensive program. Residence training includes cooking skills, menu planning and household care. After that the student needs to maintain a job in the community which pays more than minimum wage for at least 90 days and be able to get to and from the work independently. He must also have saved $1,000."

When a student is ready for independent living, Dobrowolski finds the student an apartment, and for three months he visits three times a week to see how the student is doing."

"Most . . . never had to deal with life, he said. They've been institutionalized and need help in developing their self-concept and living skills," Dobrowolski said.

"They can stay with us until they reach their goals. One student has been here for five years, and this is the first year he's made eye contact. Now he's working at a market in Ramona . . . and doing well."

Nick Arellano, 27, recently graduated, has a job as dishwasher and lives independently in Escondido. "He's doing fine and is almost completely finished with our program," Dobrowolski said.

Will they all make it?

"We try. It's our goal. We think they are capable," Dobrowolski said. "If they want to leave, they can give us 30 days' notice, and vice versa. And if we feel this place is not appropriate for a student, we also give them 30 days' notice."

Andrew Lynn is 24. He has red hair and a beard and seems well-spoken, educated and polite.

"Andrew is very intelligent, but half of him is gone," Dobrowolski said. Some days he can't even find his seat . . . on other days he'll give me two pages of poetry that are perfect, or tell me about a planet and how it was formed."

At 17, Lynn graduated from high school in Brawley with honors. A month later he suffered brain damage in a motor scooter accident.

The youth was flown from Brawley to University Hospital and then spent five months in Children's Hospital. For a month after the accident he was in a coma. "He's come farther than we expected. It was six months before he could walk and talk," his father, Samuel Lynn, said.

Lynn's parents brought him to Laddi Farm the day after Thanksgiving in 1983.

"It was distressing to let someone else care for our handicapped son, but it was best for him, and for us."

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