“It’s kind of amazing. One year you’re going this way, then the next you’re in a completely different place.”
Twenty year old Jamison Cowling knows well of what he speaks. 2017 was a deeply challenging year for the Estacada resident. Jami, who experiences autism, has spent the last year and a half adjusting to life after a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI.)
In March of 2017, he was involved in a snow-tubing accident that left him with a broken neck, broken back, fractured skull, and brain hemorrhage. The months that followed were painful and difficult, requiring around the clock care as he slowly learned to walk and communicate again. He found comfort in family support, friends, and his faith.
Says mother Beki, “When I first received the call letting us know he had been injured and was being loaded into an ambulance, my world sort of tilted for a minute… I struggled to breathe. And then our whole family sort of went on pause for months and months while we helped Jami deal with his TBI and we advocated for all the supports he needed.”
In the early days following his discharge from the hospital, he slept twenty-two hours a day at times, requiring around the clock supports. His parents balanced helping Jami recover with raising his four younger siblings. “It was so hard for Jami, but he was strong,” says Beki. “A brain injury changes everything.”
He underwent extensive occupational, speech, and neurofeedback therapy and credits the exceptional supports he received from Dr. Swingen, a chiropractic functional neurologist in SW Portland, with crafting an individualized physical therapy plan that eventually got him back on his feet.
Building a Circle of Support
The life he leads today is light years away from where things were for him and his family just eighteen months ago. Soon after the accident, he enrolled as a customer of Independence Northwest support services brokerage. “Options matter,” says Beki. “The whole last year has been about creating the right Team Jami.”
Team Jami is made up of friends, family members, and paid home and community-based supports. By combining brokerage staff, medical professionals, a behavior specialist, and Personal Support Workers to help him increase his independent living skills, Jami has been able to build a firm foundation for his new life.
Success rarely comes in a straight line. As soon as he was feeling well and stable enough, Jami set his sights on employment. His initial attempt moving into the workforce wasn’t without its challenges. “I had a job and it wasn’t good for me,” he says, referring to a position he held about a year after the accident. His brain was still healing and he needed a low stress, adaptive environment. People in his circle noticed he was starting to struggle and became concerned things might be moving too swiftly. “We needed something different, something that would give me the space to think and do a good job.”
Jami’s Brokerage Personal Agent Andrea Ochsner brainstormed with the family on possible options to better support him in future job environments. She connected them with a Behavior Specialist by the name of Gabrielle Taylor, who soon joined the circle of support. Gabrielle worked with Jami to perform a functional behavior assessment, laying the groundwork for communication strategies at home and in future employment settings. “She really helped me,” he says.
Concurrently, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Mark Foster assisted Jami with developing an employment plan that focused on his strengths and capacities, bringing provider organization Adult Learning Systems of Oregon (ALSO) on board. ALSO helped Jami land a volunteer position with Store to Door, a nonprofit program where Jami would grocery shop on behalf of seniors and people with physical disabilities.
“Communication is everything and it furthers what Jami is able to do… (Personal Agent) Andrea has facilitated communication amazingly! She is very skilled at gathering the different members of Team Jami together, either by email or in-person meetings, and then diplomatically addresses sensitive issues in ways that puts everyone at ease. When all of (us) are on the same page, then Jami wins. He gets clear, consistent, and congruent supports.”
Preparation, Connectivity, and Opportunity
In the fall of 2018, everything converged. Before he knew it, Jami was preparing for an interview with Fred Meyer.
“It shocked them I got this job so quick,” says Jami. “It was really fast.” He says the experience he gained as a volunteer at Store to Door helped pave the way for the position.
Today, Jami is working five days a week at a Fred Meyer in Clackamas County, a member of their Click List team. He reviews online grocery orders, shops the store for the items, and assists customers when they come to pick up their purchases.
“There’s a lot of variety in the job,” he says. “I have a lot less social anxiety. This weekend was Veterans Day and I thanked two veterans for their service. One served in the Vietnam War and really appreciated being thanked.”
Watching her son talk about his success, Beki beams with pride.
“When I think of all that Jami and our family has gone through in the last eighteen months, I am just so profoundly filled with gratitude that Jami is alive and breathing and walking and talking… Now we are seeing the fruits of all the efforts that everyone has made supporting our son and it is truly beautiful. We are getting our sweet Jami back and he is even better than before.”