WALLA WALLA – With a broad smile and upturned palms, Jim Hough characterized the situation in the East Walla Walla home shared by his brother, Brian Hough, and Mark Nibler.
“They want to hang out in their boxers, be on their computers and eat chili mac. It’s not just disability guys doing that. You have laundry on the floor (to be sorted) and the category is ‘dirty.’ Sorting is unnecessary. They’re guys.”
Despite Jim’s summation, the house of two young men living with developmental disabilities is remarkably tidy and not on just this day, moms Carla Nibler and Teri Hough agreed, nodding heads at one another.
Brian’s obsessive-compulsive disorder – one component of his disability – helps keep a tight ship, both environmentally and socially, even when he tries to over-manage his housemate’s life.
In turn, Mark’s patience adds a calming influence. And, at the end of the day, the longtime friends make this experiment sustainable, their mothers agree.
Brian, blond and gregarious, has known Mark, dark-haired and quieter, most of his life. When the boys were 3 years old, Carla and Teri saw each other at various functions of Parent to Parent, where Teri was coordinator at the time.
The organization, under the umbrella of Walla Walla County, gives parents and families of special needs children support in a number of ways.
Mark’s diagnosis was autism and the oldest Nibler child – as did Brian, born with Down syndrome – wended his way through the services available in Walla Walla, including those provided by the school district.
Mark eventually moved in with his aunt to begin transitioning to a more independent lifestyle, Carla said. And Brian stayed at home, taking classes at Walla Walla Community College for his own enrichment, using the Valley Transit bus system, learning housekeeping skills and trying employment after graduation.
Their sons continued to interact with each other since toddlerhood, Teri and Carla said. Special Olympics, movie nights and school activities all served to build the bond between the buddies.
About two years ago, Mark, 24, and Brian, 25, were beginning to show signs of being ready to fly the nest.
“We always intended for Brian to live outside the home,” Teri said.
“It’s normal,” Brian added.
“I was slower to come to this point,” Carla said with a laugh. “The way I’m slower to come to everything. I didn’t think he was capable of being that independent. But it became more and more obvious Mark was capable and that it was the right thing to do.”
Neither family was attracted to the typical group-home concept, Teri said, listing a number of things that would not suit them, including working around staffing schedules. Which means a loss of freedom within a family to “steal” their own for the day or more on a whim. “You have some control over your kid’s life, but less.”
Yet putting each boy in a roommate situation could also have pitfalls. Personalities have to work and that goes for more than the roomies, Carla pointed out.
“Teri and I were fairly confident that our boys would be compatible. The next thing to discuss was Teri’s and my compatibility in this venture,” Carla said. “I think it’s fair to say we’re both pretty strong personalities.”
Rent and communal living costs are shared, paid for out of Social Security disability checks. The house is staffed on and off during the day, also a shared expense.
Deborah Prior, an alternative living provider, helps in a multitude of ways. Signs of her work include the two calendars on the kitchen wall. One is a chore keeper – “change sheets” on this day and “Brian laundry” on that. Another calendar helps Mark and Brian keep track of medical and other appointments, as well as track food choices for Mark, to help him avoid meal ruts, Prior explained.
As head of Walla Walla County’s Developmental Disabilities office, Teri Hough encourages families to plan for the future and what it will look like for their disabled son or daughter.
“I talk about ways to live independently,” she said. There are all kinds of ways to do so and we want people to think about doing it. And be creative.”
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