Where Is He Now? Dakota Bowls Over Obstacles to Independence

Dakota Kirkland is hitting his stride, and he knows it. “I bowled a 300!” he says gleefully, waving a white piece of paper to show off his recent bowling score. Although Dakota has been bowling since the age of six, until recently he had never been part of a league. A month ago, he joined the special needs league team at the local alley. When the members of a local adult league found out how well Dakota could bowl, they invited him to join their league, too. He is thrilled, and he is ready to go – his bowling bag is already packed and waiting for the next game.

One thing is clear: for Dakota, who has a dual diagnosis of mental health issues and IDD, independence and growth are very important. That’s why, after a recent reassessment of Dakota’s goals and concerns, the SimplyHome team is onsite to install new technology at his mountainside home in Western North Carolina. Dakota first started using SimplyHome technology in his home back in 2015. (You can read that story here.)

Now in his late twenties, Dakota’s current goals include:

  • Addressing anxiety about safety at night

  • Living by himself in his home by 2020 (currently his mother lives there as well), including showing that he can manage his medication and CPAP independently

  • Learning how to use technology to communicate

  • Obtaining paid employment

Dakota shows off his custom bowling ball and discusses his new high score – a 300!

Dakota shows off his custom bowling ball and discusses his new high score – a 300!

Increasing Independence and Safety

As a result of the reassessment process, today we are installing a Ring Video doorbell and other Ring products to use with an iPad. While Dakota doesn’t read, he has a knack for numbers, patterns, and technology. By using the Ring app on the iPad, Dakota will be able to check his surroundings and increase his sense of security at nighttime. He also plans to use the FaceTime app to show that he is taking his medication on time and turning on his oxygen, once his mother Kerri moves out and he starts living alone. He is already increasing independence: although his mother Kerri currently lives with him, her job requires long hours and traveling out of town.

Dakota’s technology supports have evolved. When we first met Dakota, he needed support with medication compliance and his C-PAP each evening. He was using a medication dispenser at first but then transitioned to using a reminder on his phone. He had verbal prompts reminding him to turn on his C-PAP machine at first, along with reminders about his medication and keys, but soon he no longer needed these cues. After today’s installation, his technology supports will include the iPad (connected to the Ring cameras) as well as a PERS unit (Personal Emergency Response System) for when he needs emergency or family assistance.

Using Technology to Connect

One of Dakota’s other technology goals is learning to use a cell phone. This skill will help him if he needs to get in touch with his close-knit family, many of whom live nearby in the surrounding valley.

During the week, Dakota has several hours of staff support. He introduces his staff with a grin: Julie, his cousin, works for a local provider; Sara is his second staff-person who also happens to be Julie’s first cousin. The addition of extended family members as staff supports has allowed Dakota to relax into his living situation. “Since members of his extended family have become part of his staff supports, he has really made a lot of progress,” says Kerri. “It’s a lot better when you have family as your staff,” Dakota says. “I trust family more.” Kerri says that this continuity has helped Dakota stay out of the hospital, too. A nurse comes once a month to check on his health, but he has had fewer health problems than before.

Transitioning to Paid Employment

Finding employment that is both supported (by staff) and paid has been another big goal for Dakota. When we last interviewed Dakota, in 2015, he was building and selling birdhouses, but he soon realized that working with animals was a better fit. “I can work with animals better than people,” he says, picking up his devoted terrier, Gemma. Dakota has worked at the Nature Center as well as at the local shelter, Brother Wolf, where he found Gemma. Soon, with the help of a community connection, Dakota will start a paid position with a local doggy daycare, where he performs janitorial work and is learning to groom dogs.

Enjoying Life to the Fullest

In his free time, Dakota loves to fish, swim and work out at the YMCA, and play frisbee golf. He also loves to cook. The first thing he learned to make, he says, was hot wings, although he is still learning that his definition of ‘hot’ is a little too spicy for most people. He also likes to grill steak and make shake n bake pork chops with some help from staff. He quickly assures us that he also eats a lot of salads.

What’s next now that he is working on his independence and safety at home? Always ready with a new goal, Dakota has one more thing on his mind: a relationship. He would like to get married and settle down with a wife. No kids, though: Dakota says that being an uncle is enough for him. He is looking forward to a new niece or nephew in a few weeks.  

A new life coming into existence? That’s pretty exciting. At SimplyHome, we can’t wait to see what Dakota comes up with next. We’ll be there with technology supports as his journey to independence continues to unfold.