Celebrating A Different Kind Of Coming Of Age

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
4 min readAug 25, 2022

I’m not packing my son off for college this week…some families have different stories.

This week, most of my friends are packing up children for college. I check in with them, send them love and safe travels, tell them I’m here to meet for coffee when they get back from dropoff. I look ahead and imagine what I may feel in two years, when my younger child, now entering junior year, heads away from home.

I know that grief might come up for me this week, a flash of what my older son George, who is 19, might have looked like on campus. George, who has an intellectual disability, severe autism, and bipolar disorder, attends a residential school and comes home on weekends

Right now, we are working hard to get the services and support that George will need to live the most meaningful life for him, a life full of making art and music that he loves, a life in community and also as part of our family: his adult life. Most people, I’ve discovered, have never been close to a person with an intellectual disability and are not familiar with what happens when young people transition out of the school system. Before our parenting journey with George, I had no idea about how our society supports adults with intellectual and other disabilities.

I share about the challenges navigating systems that provide support for my son with my friends and family-but it’s hard to grasp the brokenness of systems from the outside. For example, my son will need a Medicaid waiver so that he can get the housing he needs but t he waiting list in Pennsylvania where we live is enormous.

My friends are often shocked when I tell them about these struggles. I turn to other parents going through this same thing, the tribe I’ve developed of fellow parents, so I don’t feel so alone.

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About a month ago, a close friend invited me, along with other of her friends, to a ritual to mark her daughter’s leaving for college.

She created a beautiful, thoughtful ritual: a circle of us, different ages and in different life stages, shared about our experiences around transition and how we find the inner resources to get through liminal moments. We shared wisdom along with healthy doses of laughter, over good food and wine.

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Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Writer, Educator, Mom. Disability advocate. Dog Lover. Teaching online workshops on writing + spiritual growth. www.gabriellekaplanmayer.com