06/11/2013 05:04 EDT

After Years-Long Wait, A Chance To 'Make Her Own Life'

King's Investigative Workshop

When Ron Cutler and Marianne Blair-Cutler’s daughter turned 19, they weren’t preparing to move her away to college or worrying about a wild night on the town. Instead, they were registering Victoria on a wait list for supportive housing.

Three and a half years later, the now 25-year-old was accepted into the Independent Living Support program and moved into an apartment in Lower Sackville, a short drive from her parent’s house.

“It’s time for her to begin to make her own life,” Blair-Cutler says of her daughter, who has autism. “I do know some families that have decided to keep their child home, supposedly forever.”

Blair-Cutler thinks life in the family home can be harmful after a while. Victoria was spending a lot of time in her room, keeping to herself. She was comfortable at home, and opposed to the idea of moving out. But in the year and a half since Victoria moved into her own apartment, her parents have seen their daughter grow.

Victoria’s apartment is clean and organized: the kitchen is well-kept, the coffee table in the living room is bare and her bedroom walls are plastered with drawings she’s done of characters in her favourite book series.

victoria reading

Victoria Cutler's bedroom walls are plastered with drawings of characters from her favourite book series.

She bowls on Sundays, takes voice lessons on Mondays, makes jewelry at the Autism Centre on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and works at the Point Pleasant Child Care Centre on Fridays. She’s happy with life.

But getting her to this point wasn’t easy.

As Victoria approached the age of 19, Blair-Cutler had difficulty finding resources to consult to plan her daughter’s future. She says the lack of a registry of homes on Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services’ website made it difficult to find out what was available for her daughter, and where. Blair-Cutler felt overwhelmed and feared Victoria would end up in an inappropriate placement. At the same time, she didn’t want to limit her daughter’s abilities.

When the Cutlers first started looking for housing for their daughter, they considered L’Arche, a small group home in Halifax’s north end. Blair-Cutler says it offers a “loving community of support.”

The couple knew their daughter was capable of living in her own apartment with the right support, but still found the lack of options frustrating.

When Victoria was accepted into the Independent Living Support program, it was her responsibility to find an agency to provide the 21 hours of weekly support. They settled on an agency that deals exclusively with apartments and offers individualized programs for each client’s needs.

It took Victoria a while to warm up to the idea of moving out.

“We just said over and over and over: it’s not because we don’t love you and we’re trying to get rid of you, it’s because we know your life is going to get very, very small if you continue to be here,” Blair-Cutler says.

The lack of transitional support didn’t make it any easier. All that was offered were visits and advice from the Department of Community Services and the support agency prior to the move.

Victoria came home for dinner the day after she moved.

She now receives support and services from staff 21 hours a week. The staff help her with the everyday tasks of cooking and cleaning, and also aid her in trips to the grocery store and banking.

The staff, a care co-ordinator from the agency, Victoria and her mom meet monthly to discuss Victoria’s progress and changing needs. They also troubleshoot any issues she may be having.

While Victoria is high-functioning and capable of many basic tasks, her father says she’ll probably always need some sort of support services. Still, he hopes she’ll eventually need fewer than 21 hours of help.

The Cutlers agree there are flaws in the system, but ultimately, they’re pleased with their daughter’s current situation.

Even she’s warmed up to it. Victoria gets along with her roommate and enjoys having company.

“After about a week I started to feel more comfortable,” she says. “I’m pretty happy. It’s pretty quiet and peaceful here.”

victoria video game

While Victoria is high-functioning and capable of many basic tasks, her father says she’ll probably always need some sort of support services.