CLOSER LOOK: Abigail Pearson

She just wants a place of her own

Abby Pearson and her parents have been waiting 14 years for a waiver.

Ellen Pearson was trembling, scanning her car for sharp objects as she sped down the highway.

In the back seat, her 26-year-old daughter, Abby, had flown into one of her rages. Furious that she couldn’t spend the night with friends, she shrieked inconsolably, pulled at the locked doors and threatened to kill herself. It took 45 minutes for Abby, who has been intellectually impaired since birth, to calm down.

For years Ellen and her husband, Jeff, have struggled to understand their usually good-natured daughter. Her periodic tirades have intensified since she reached adulthood and asked to move out of her parents’ Plymouth home.

“Honestly, at least half of Abby’s outbursts stem from the fact that she doesn’t want to live at home anymore,” Ellen said.

To make that happen, the Pearsons need a special form of state assistance, known as a Medicaid “waiver,” that would give Abby independent housing with on-site therapy and other support. But 14 years have passed since the Pearsons applied. They are still waiting, unsure if they will live long enough to get an answer.

In that time, the Pearsons have rotated through more than a dozen county case managers, each of whom pleaded ignorance about Abby’s application status. “It’s a black hole,” said Jeff Pearson, 64, a manager at a bus company. “You never know if you’re at the bottom, the top or the middle of the list.”

With help from her stay-at-home mom, Abby appears to be living her dream of an integrated life in the community. She goes to work in downtown Minneapolis three days a week as a secretary for Special Olympics. She competes in track and field meets and runs her own greeting card business from the basement of her parents’ home.

But like many other adults with disabilities on Minnesota’s waiting list, Abby finds her life stuck in “a state of perpetual childhood,” Ellen said. Her bedroom is decorated with the same pink-and-purple furniture she had as a child. On a shelf near her window is a row of snow globes and a SpongeBob SquarePants clock.

“It’s looked this way almost since she was out of the crib,” Ellen said.

Abby’s tirades started in high school and have intensified each year — often triggered by something as simple as her parents asking her to empty the dishwasher.

“I love my parents and I love my life,” Abby said, sitting in the living room of her parents’ home. “The one thing missing is independence.”

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