If someone ever tells you your child ‘will never’ don’t accept it, ever. While going through files preparing for a post, I found a handwritten note that said, “Autism doesn’t mean stagnation. People with autism develop, age, learn new things, and leave behind old habits… As they grow older, they become more teachable and responsible.” Source Unknown
Although I do not know the source of those comments, they are really important and have proven to be true with Jessica. When she aged out of high school, she was still on the upward slope of her learning curve.
SHE WILL NEVER
When Jessica was 7 years old, I was told she would never learn to read. At age 14, Jessica could read the numbers 1 through 30, could read capital letters, knew some phonetics, could read her name and some other names, could read survival words, and could spell her own first and last name and the names of two of her favorite people, Lawman and Beth. She could spell her name on the board with magnetic letters and could write words, numbers, ABC’s and days of the week on the white board
Additional things Jessica could do by the time she was 14 years old:
- Rote count to 50
- Add some numbers together
- Use a deck of cards to sort to work on numbers and math
- Stack coins in stacks of 5 and 10
- Identify coins and say their value
- Know there are 7 days in a week
- Using class materials, look at cost of an item and identify if dollars or cents
- Use the dollar up method to put money in an envelope for purchase
- Use assistive technology to work on addition
- Read left to right
- Use sticks to make the shape of a letter
- State her personal information
EARLY TRANSITION PLANNING CONCERNS
During this period of development and significant gains in academic skills, I was told that she was old enough to start transition planning and that she had some employable skills. Honestly, this announcement freaked me out. It seemed like we had fought for so long to get the academics going, and now it was time to move on? As in, the stagnation idea? This was as far as her personal and academic development was going to go? Panic set in. I still had high hopes and expected much more. I knew she was capable. How could we start planning for a vocation when she had so much more to learn that she was capable of learning? Wouldn’t that completely change a vocational direction? (okay… okay… educators out there reading my blog… remember that I am a very LITERAL person. I have a much better understanding now, but this was my take on the process back then.)
One of the pre-vocational skills that was part of the ongoing year-to-year lesson plan, taught, and practiced was washing the cafeteria tables after breakfast and lunch. I personally had a problem with this. I did not want Jess washing tables for other people as part of her education. It most definitely did not fit the image in my head of what she was capable of doing for a vocation. Did the typical kids as a whole get trained on how to wash the cafeteria tables at school? No, I’m pretty sure not. If all the kids in the school were trained and were expected to take turns washing tables, then I would have been a little more okay with Jess working on that. I was very much not okay with the whole idea that this was what to expect as career options for special education students. There were more creative options out there.
She did learn how to wash the tables, but she did not do that on a daily basis. Instead, I suggested that she be taught and assigned some tasks in the office. This worked out well. She learned to load paper in a copy machine and distribute attendance sheets to each classroom. She really enjoyed doing these things and getting to visit the office staff too!
AND IT CONTINUES
Maturity is a major factor in the development process. Jessica’s development continued through high school, throughout her 20’s, and even at age 30. As she matures, she is more curious about things along the way. That curiosity improves her openness to the learning process. I have expectations of that development and curiosity continuing on forever. Just as it does for all of us.