Ten-year-old Matthew is ready for warm weather.
“I can’t wait because I know how to swim underwater,” he said. “I just jumped in and I got the hang of it.”
Swimming, it turns out, is just one of many things Matthew has gotten the hang of recently. He’s also an ace basketball player, a master of online gaming, and — together with his twin brother, Jordan — a pro at navigating the ramps in his neighborhood skate park. He’s an all-around amiable, active and fun-loving kid.
It hasn’t always been that way.
“It used to be really treacherous. It was hard,” Matthew’s mother, Kim Ritter, said, recalling a time when Matthew had trouble controlling his anger and sometimes attacked her. “Raising the boys, it’s been tough.”
‘I didn’t know what life held’
Ritter thought she couldn’t have kids. Her pregnancy was a surprise, as was the boys’ arrival 13 weeks early.
“I was really scared. I didn’t know what to expect,” Ritter said. “I was petrified because I didn’t know what life held.”
The boys were born with “some complications, but not too much,” Ritter said. As they got older, however, she noticed they began to miss some developmental milestones and brought them to be examined at Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
The boys were diagnosed with several types of developmental delays and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Ritter said. One of the twins also had a sensitivity to sounds and trouble eating without choking.
“My life has been swamped with appointments,” Ritter said. “I’ve been wanting to learn more about kids with disabilities.”
A developmental disability is a condition such as cerebral palsy, autism or epilepsy that a person is born with, or obtained before age 22, and which causes significant delays in everyday functioning. A person with an intellectual disability has significantly below-average intellectual and adaptive skills as measured by standardized testing administered by a qualified psychologist.
Inclusion and respect
Ritter’s commitment to finding ways to help her sons eventually led her to Multnomah County’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Services Division. The connection helped Ritter to continue to understand Matthew and Jordan’s conditions and opened her eyes to the breadth of services and opportunities available to them.
“When (IDDSD) got in my life...that’s when I started learning a little more about their diagnosis and a little more about what kind of problems they really had,” Ritter said. “I’ve learned other ways of getting through to them.”
Through its programs and other initiatives, Multnomah County supports inclusion of and respect for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The County is committed to helping people with intellectual or developmental disabilities experience personal growth and development, enjoy meaningful relationships, safely live and fully participate in communities and activities they choose,” said Dawn Alisa Sadler, senior program manager for Multnomah County’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Services Division.
Among other things, the Division:
- Serves individuals living independently, in specialized housing or in the family home.
- Assesses individual needs and aids in order to achieve and maintain personal outcomes as outlined in the Individual Support Plan (ISP).
- Coordinates with state, public and private agencies to provide services.
- Assists individuals in accessing employment, relief care and behavioral consultation.
- Guides and supports families in planning for the future.
Matthew and Jordan have benefited from a number of services. They also have been able to continue to live at home with their parents. Jordan has graduated from a counseling program, while Matthew still receives skills training and therapy to help with his behavior.
“He’s found ways to calm himself before it escalates,” Ritter said. “It’s getting a lot easier, a lot easier.”
A support system
When they’re not in fourth grade, the boys spend much of their time riding their scooters and bicycles at the skate park and playing basketball and other games at the nearby Boys and Girls Club. They are thriving, Ritter said.
“I’m so grateful for that,” she said.
Ritter said her relationship with the County over the last several years has gone beyond just receiving or being directed to services for Matthew and Jordan.
Ritter said her case manager, Sue Hartinger, has become a key part of her support circle.
“Just having somebody who will show up to the all the boys’ functions…is important,” Ritter said. “It helps me feel supported. And that’s a big part of it. I’ve got to be well to take care of them.”
“She’s so resilient and has persevered with so many things,” Hartinger said. “She’s such a strong advocate for these guys. She’s had to do that on multiple levels and systems.”
On May 1, the Intellectual and Developmental Services Division of the Department of County Human Services will host an informational fair about its services. The fair will take place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the DHS Self Sufficiency office at 11826 NE Glisan St. in Portland. The event is free and open to the public and will feature raffle prizes, music and activities for kids.
If you or someone you know is interested in being referred for County services, call 503.988.6258 to begin the application and evaluation process.