Home > Family Services > A Very Special Mother’s Day Gift: Independent Living for My Son, Hunter

A Very Special Mother’s Day Gift: Independent Living for My Son, Hunter

This is a blog post by Marianne Sullivan, Assistant Director of National Outreach and Resources at Autism Speaks, and the mother of a young adult with autism.

This year on Mother’s Day I will celebrate something very special: the gift of independent living for my 18-year-old son, Hunter, who is challenged by severe autism.

Several months ago, Hunter moved to a new home in our community that was designed with supportive living services. While there was a lot of anxiety as we approached this move, the staff assisted in a smooth transition. Living in his new home, Hunter walks to the Coryell Autism Center where he is focused on acquiring new job skills, and to neighborhood stores. Hunter, like any other 18-year-old, shows great pride in his new independence. When I stop by to see him or when he comes to visit me, it becomes clear we have a new relationship.

For the past 16 years, Hunter struggled to overcome severe challenges posed by his autism. He made some remarkable gains through a school that our community developed for children like him. Adolescence was difficult, like for any teen, and he tried to assert independence while still being very dependent in many areas. As he began to develop community living skills like money management, grocery shopping, and participation in community activities, we realized how much more there was that needed to be addressed. It was during this time that we began to plan for the creation of a new residential model where independent living skills could be more systematically practiced on a daily basis.

Hunter endured another challenge during this period. After a 20 year marriage, his father and I separated and then divorced. Our entire family went through a long period of emotional turmoil. Ultimately, Hunter has been able to adjust to this and, like many other teens whose parents divorce, he has grown from this life process.

For those of you who might be thinking about creating an independent living situation for your teen, let me give some background to aid you in exploring your options. When Hunter turned 18, we applied for SSI from Social Security so he would have his own funds for Medicare and health insurance coverage. We also applied to the California Regional Center for services that would assist him to live on his own. Supportive Living Services (SLS) is a state program that offers a range of services to adults with developmental disabilities who, through the Individual Program Plan (IPP) process, are given help to live in homes they themselves own or lease in the community. SLS may include:

·     Assistance with locating, selecting and moving into a new home in the community

·     Support to improve one’s ability in common daily living activities, meal planning, personal finance management, etc.

·     Encouragement to become participating member in community life through volunteer or special job responsibilities

Finally, we were able to apply for and receive Federal Housing Section 8 assistance that subsidizes the rent he pays to the landlord of his new home.

As I reflect back this Mother’s Day on all that has happened, I take a deep breath and then can’t help but smile. I am so proud of all the work Hunter has done and grateful for all those who have helped our family get to this point. Like every mother, I continue to worry about the future but I also know that Hunter is prepared for challenges ahead.

From one mother to another, I wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to you!

  1. May 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Happy Mother’s Day Marianne!

  2. Jeanine Cantrell
    May 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I think that’s wonderful!My son turns 14 in a few days,and I’m already concerned about life after school.We have a few options for him.I hope we have as much good fortune as you!Happy Mother’s Day to you as well!

  3. May 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Marianne! Congrats to Hunter, and to you!

  4. Margaret Bowen
    May 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Excellent tips… Thanks Marianne. Happy Mother’s Day.

  5. Barbara
    May 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Wow!! Sounds like you did an awesome job too MOM!! Congrats to both of you on a job well done! Happy Mothers Day to you too!

  6. Pam Butchart
    May 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Marianne, I personally know what both you and Hunter have gone through to get where you are today. It’s been a long road, but a rewarding one. It’s a wonderful achievement to celebrate this Mother’s Day in your new relationship. Congratulations to both of you. Enjoy your special day.

  7. jantel
    May 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you for your story Marianne, this gives me hope for independent living for my 21 year old Son.

  8. alisha hanna
    May 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    This is a very inspirational story. My son suffers with autism also and your story gives me alot of hope for Nicholas’ future. I think you have gotten one of the most special and precious gifts and by sharing your story you have given me the special gift of hope. Thank you and god bless you, your son and your family.

  9. Anita
    May 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Congratulations on this very special step. I wish you both well. Happy Mother’s Day Marianne. I dream of this very moment for our son.

  10. Lori
    May 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Congratulations Marianne! What a wonderful opportunity for your son and you!

  11. grasshopper
    May 6, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Hi Marianne, this gives me some additional ideas for my 21-yr old son who is PDDNOS but “officially” Aspergers. We’ve had a very difficult time finding even a part-time job for him, and I would prefer to stay off government assistance if at all possible. However, if it needs to be done… Thanks for the inspiration on this blog and the hope you give to other families.

  12. Sarah Conley
    May 7, 2011 at 6:32 am

    A very inspiring story, Marianne, and that gives hope to all of us with children who are fast approaching adulthood! Excellent “how to” information to give families a road map to follow—but we all know that’s why you were chosen for the job you do for Autism Speaks Family Services!!! They are lucky to have you and I am too! :=}

  13. Pilar White
    May 7, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Marianne, virtually all the pictures I have of my son and me are just like yours: him standing taller and bigger than me, giving me a sweet kiss. My “Willie” is 16, and I am scare of what’s next. Thank you for making me feel there is some hope. I can see this is the best mother’s day gift for you and any of us, mothers of a child with severe autism. Happy mother’s day

  14. May 7, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Many congratulations to you and Hunter on your adventure. You are a very dedicated Mom. Give Hunter a big hug for me.

  15. Sherri Cruickshank
    May 7, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Marianne, you have always been an inspiration and have worked diligently Hunter’s whole life to give him all the tools he may need to live as independent a life as possible. Happy Mother’s Day to you and congratulations on a job extremely well done.

  16. Chris Knopf
    May 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    The picture says it all!! What a wonderful gift for the future you have given Hunter by your perseverance through all these years. Your story will open the doors for other parents to not give up hope for their kids and know that there is a way for them to experience independance and happiness and have goals that can most definately be reached. You deserve to be one very proud mother on this Mothers Day and all those to come I hope you are settling in to you new home nicely… hope we can visit with each other again some day – I would love that! btw I hear Sean’s voice many days coming from Shane’s room thru the internet as they play their game, and it took me a while to realize he was not actually in the room…. those boys … :)

  17. May 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Marrianne, wishing you a wonderful Mother’s Day! I am very proud and touched by your support and accomplishments that you have helped your son achieve. I know that he must be very proud as well. My 9 year old son,Colt is challenged with autism as well and is now showing a very proud side with his independent skills emerging.

    My husband and I have found that a nutritional supplement that was introduced into Colt’s diet 4 months ago has proven significant to elevate Colt’s own awareness that he is challenged with Autism. A window has opened for Colt which has allowed him to make major strides of progress. His social skills being most prominent. And I am happy to say that this same supplement is now helping another little girl who has been non-verbal for 5 years … after only a couple days on the supplement her mom told me that she heard her daughter singing!

    There is so much encouragement, support and HOPE! All we have to do is never give up … like you.

    Again, hats off to you and have an amazing mother’s day!



    • Sandi Weisel
      May 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm

      I’m a grandmother of two autistic brothers (14 & 9). Read with interest your response to Hunter’s mother. What is the supplement that was introducted for your daughter. I’d be interested in sharing it with my son if he doesn’t already know about it.

      I wish you all the very best in the challenges you have faced and are facing. One of my grandsons (the youngest) is pretty much non-verbal; I believe he is getting somewhat better, but I don’t get to see him often. The 14 year old is very bright, social, fun, witty, kind, gentle, loves and participates in sports, plays the piano (by ear), etc.

      I guess we just try to keep up with all that goes on in their precious minds and souls. They are God’s gift to us.

      You also have a wonderful attitude, and I appreciate blogs such as yours.


      • May 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm

        Hi Sandi,

        The nutritional supplement that has more than helped my son and, now, this other little girl is ageLOC Vitality. It is designed and specific to supporting and rejuvenating our mitochondria which are the batteries of our cells.

        The progress that my son has made is truly phenomenal. I will not call it a cure, but definitely a missing piece of the puzzle.

        Please send me your e-mail or write to me at stephsstuff@hotmail.com and I would be more than happy to share Colt’s journal and more info about this supplement.

        God Bless,


  18. Lucie Ryan
    May 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm


    You are right, Hunter had to work very hard to get where he is. But I know hou much you put into it and I give you congratulations and kudos for all that you have done for your son.


  19. Pepper Pascal
    May 7, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    What an incredible mom you are! I wish Hunter all the luck and blessing life can bestow, and I wish the same for the one who has to let him go.

  20. Tom Dixon
    May 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Beautifully said, Marianne and god bless you both! Happy Mothers Day to you!

    Tom And Judh

  21. May 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks for this post, Marianne. My daughter with severe autism is only 9 years old, but we’re told here in Maryland that we need to start looking at waiting lists for group homes NOW! It’s just so scary. Your post and Hunter’s success give me hope. momofzoe.com

  22. Dadvocate
    May 9, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Brava and Bravo.

  23. Harry Diament
    May 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    This is a wonderful success story, I have a 25 year old son that we are trying to set up in an independent living situation, I believe this story is about someone who qualifies for Medicaid Waiver services, which are not available to most young adults with Developmental Disabilities who are higher functioning. If I am wrong, please let me know how you received those services, and any information on rental assisstance, our state says the waiting list has been closed for 4 years.

  24. Sandi Weisel
    May 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    What a wonderful inspiring story about Hunter. And, you…his mother. You are inspiring, as well. My oldest son has three sons – two have autism (14 & 7). The 14 year old has come a long way since his diagnosis at age four. He is very bright, social, witty, fun, has a big heart, loves and plays sports, etc. I don’t know what his future holds, but he has been assessed as being able to live out on his own (with others of his kind probably) and have a job (he loves McD’s). That is encouraging to me at this point. I love him so much. The seven year old was also diagnosed at age four. For the most part, he is pretty much non-verbal. He is a screamer, a kicker, and a mama’s boy. Since there are miles between us, I don’t know him as a should. I’m hoping to fix that. My husband has Alzheimer’s and is no longer able to live at home, so it makes for difficult travel for me.

    I wish you continued success in your journey with your beloved Hunter. My love goes out to you, Hunter, and all the family.

  25. May 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Hunter is one lucky young man to have a loving mother like you. My heart is filled with love and joy for both of you! Bet Luck to Hunter as he begins his independent life and bless you for allowing him to grow.

  26. elise baucum
    June 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    I have an autiistic faughter named brianna she is finallu verbal
    after years of tterapy her temper still still flares
    when not in school or on the go I have to

    keep her busy

  27. July 30, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Marrianne, I can’t find the words. Having a non-autestic kid to become independent is a huge challenge. However you managed to do it with your autestic son!

    Having an independent 18 y/o with autism must be the achievement that nothing can compare to.

    You are right, this is the best gift a mother would get in a mother’s day.

    CONGRATULATIONS Marrianne. You set the example for all mothers, and left them no excuse to fail.

  28. February 12, 2012 at 4:57 am

    That is the best gift that you can possibly give him indeed. Congratulations Marrianne for overcoming all the challenges to provide him with all the skills needed to leave independently. :)

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