Harford mother's goal is network for disabled

January 31, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Adam Kornick, despite having mild cerebral palsy, was a model student at Harford Technical High School with plenty of acquaintances. Then he graduated and stepped into the "black hole" of adulthood.

Suddenly he had no instant companions and no authority figures telling him what to do every hour of the day. While other high school graduates eagerly tackled college courses or scouted for full-time jobs, Adam, with his disability, wasn't capable of either.

"This population gets lost," says Victoria Kornick, Adam's mother. "The young people, if they can't keep up contact with other learning-disabled people, end up being couch potatoes."

She hopes to do something about that, starting Tuesday evening, with the first monthly meeting of the Harford chapter of the Group for the Independent Learning Disabled. Mrs. Kornick, who is spearheading the local group, expects about 25 families to take part in the effort to help disabled young adults learn to manage their independence.

GILD in Harford County, only the second GILD chapter in the state, will be affiliated with Baltimore County GILD, a 4-year-old group that has been a a model for Mrs. Kornick. Membership is open to young adults 18 and older and their caretakers.

The young members may be physically handicapped or have learning disabilities ranging from dyslexia to mild mental retardation, says Mrs. Kornick. They will be building long-term friendships with one another while their parents build a support system of information and assistance in getting their children on the road to independence.

"Once a child turns 18, he is an adult technically, and it's very scary for parents. You ask yourself, 'Where do I go now, what do I do?' It's a lot of responsibility for the family to have to handle," Mrs. Kornick says.

So far, Mrs. Kornick has managed well. After Adam's graduation in June 1992, he joined a youth employment program through the Private Industry Council and spent the summer as a custodial assistant at Joppatowne High School.

In September, he joined Vocational Foundations Training at Harford Community College, a program to help learning disabled students acquire appropriate job skills. But the program was too advanced for Adam, and he and eight of the other 27 students had to drop out after the first phase.

"My concern is what happens to those nine kids. I'm afraid they're sitting at home watching TV, ready to go on welfare," says Mrs. Kornick, noting that many young people need a more transitional experience from high school into even the training stage of the work world.

In Adam's case, he found one. In October, he entered "Single Step" at Dundalk Community College. The three-day-a-week program works on basic social and work skills with learning-disabled and handicapped youths to ease them into the world of work.

But other "special needs" students aren't so lucky, says Mrs. Kornick, who has spent six years on the Harford County Board of Education's advisory committee for special education.

"You can't take a 19-year-old with a disability and give him or her a job and expect them to hold it down 40 hours a week," she says. "The public school system is working hard to get these young people educated, but the adult world needs to help them become independent."

That's where GILD comes in.

She says initially the group will concentrate on "networking" caretakers -- informing them of public agencies and private programs that can offer help and teaching them how to use them.

Occasional guest speakers and discussions on everything from applying for disability benefits to registering an 18-year-old for the draft are planned.

"There are a lot of agencies you have to go through as a parent to get benefits for your child, like SSI [Supplemental Security Income]. Some forms are 20 pages long," she says. "If you're not 'with it,' that's going to scare you.

"We have a population of learning-disabled people whose parents have minor disabilities themselves. If they can't fill out forms for themselves, how are they going to do it for their children?"

GILD also will tackle more emotional concerns of caretakers, such as when and how much to "let go," a difficult task for any parent. While parents are discussing their concerns, the young people will meet separately with a group facilitator.

"I know the need for this group is out there," says Mrs. Kornick, who for five years was president of the Harford County Council of PTAs.

The group will meet at 7:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month in Harford Technical High School's cafeteria. For more information, call Mrs. Kornick at 676-7172.

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