As my oldest gets ready to complete his first year of high school, transitioning is a topic that weighs heavily on my mind. It’s made more acute by the fact that in my business of being a special education teacher, I’m busy writing something called a “Summary of Performance” for all of my graduating seniors. This is a document that is meant to capture all of what the student did in his/her high school years and then outline what resources might be available for those students when they transition into post-school life.
Here’s a newsflash for other parents of students with autism: there are precious few resources out there and almost all of those that exist are grossly underfunded, many with waiting lists that are measured in years. Once a student leaves the world of k-12 education they are no longer serviced or protected by the law known as IDEA. An IEP means nothing once they get out school. There is the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. But these are no guarantees of services, only guarantees of non-discrimination.
So my Summary of Performance will list myself, my lead, the transition coordinator and if I know where they might go to school or college, the contact information for the student support services. And that’s about it. Those with more involved or severe disabilities might have access to vocational rehabilitation services, but in Georgia those services are limited. And underfunded.
I’ve written about the Summary of Performance before, in my IEP series. That whole series is in need of an update, since I’m working with an entirely different population now, and some things have changed in the last 7 years since I wrote that out. But Spaz, the object of that post, is a case in point for those with more severe disabilities. When I saw him and his parent 3 years after he graduated, he was still on a waiting list for supported employment. And this was actually a parent who had done some pre-planning. Taz graduated a year later and I saw his mother in the store less than a year ago and he is still on the same waiting list– six years after graduation!!
This is why parents don’t like thinking about post-school transition planning because it is that depressing. My oldest was only 9 when Spaz graduated, but it was still in the back of my mind. Far in the back. But time marches on.
Since that time, he is still mostly interested in trains. Everything he does intentionally has some focus on acquiring some more model trains. This is autism at its most classic.
So I’ve been working at finding the boy some sort of marketable skills. The fact is, he can be a dependable and hard hard worker, albeit rather slow. He really doesn’t complain at all about mowing my large-ish lawn with the push mower, no matter how hot it is because he knows he’s going to get paid. And the whole time he’s mowing, he’s thinking about the new train set he’s going to buy when he saves enough money. And since he’s looking at getting a Lionel train set, that’s a lot of lawn mowing because they aren’t cheap!
And this is the part where my other blog intersects with this one, as I recently got a bee hive. Actually I bought the hive for him at Christmas and we just got the bees. Just like the lawn mowing, his interest is making money to buy trains. But he IS interested, and so there’s an opening there for expanding his interest into something somewhat marketable.
It doesn’t hurt that this is also an interest of mine.
In a more rural environment, a lot of autistic behaviors might have been written off as being odd. Farm life generally moves at a slower pace, in tune with the more natural rhythm of nature. The transitions involved in agricultural are more gradual as opposed to a more urbanized life that seems to involve a faster pace filled with more stress as things seem to be more time-sensitive. Factory life historically meant doing the same thing over and over and over again and the transitions were extremely predictable. Basically the workplace in earlier times was not nearly as hostile to someone on the autism spectrum as it is today, with a more service-oriented and socially driven economy. It’s easier dealing with plants, animals and things than it is dealing with people.
Fortunately, the bees don’t require much space at the present time, unlike a herd of cattle. I used to joke about having to get some cows when my boys got older so they would have some chores to do. I didn’t realize it while growing up, and in fact resented it, but those farm chores I had growing up did help instill a work ethic that still serves well today. And that background might be an entry into something meaningful and productive for the next generation.