It has been a busy month since I last posted about Jessica and Middle School. While going through files preparing for my next 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.
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
During this period of 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? I think panic set in. I still had high hopes. I still 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.)
I strongly resisted the push to focus on transition planning and vocation. I bucked the system (again I guess.) What I mean is the individual systems within the bigger system. For example, special education classrooms had a system of how they did things just as regular ed teachers did. I understand that, and understand that it works for many students. However, Jessica had never fit into any other preconceived plan. There was one at the middle school that I did not think Jess would fit into and I was okay with that.
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. First of all, I personally had a problem with this. I did not want Jess washing tables for other people as part of her education. I did not like the image in my head. It most definitely did not fit the image in my head of what she was capable of doing for a vocation. Did the regular-ed kids as a whole get trained on how to wash the cafeteria tables? 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 also many 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!
During this same time frame, there was a strong push for Jess to become more independent. As in, go to bathroom or walk to homeroom by herself, and learn to deliver the attendance sheets alone. Not surprisingly, I was not okay with that. I still do not apologize for not being okay with it. What if something like a fire or fire drill happened while she was alone in bathroom?
What about generalized safety? At that time there had been recent events reported in the news that were very disturbing. I was not okay with taking any risk. Besides, I told staff repeatedly that Jess might just decide to wander off one day and walk around the school. I don’t think many people believed me since they had never seen her do that.
But guess what? I had.