“Gather and Confer Ek Baar Phir: Autism NJ’s Transition Conference 2017, Impressions Part 2”
There were a lot of professionally-geared talks at this conference, and some of them were probably easier to follow if you are immersed in the jargon. Given seasonal allergies and being medicated, I had a foggy time staying focused through the ones that were beyond my ken.
One of them was by Cheri Thompson of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and was titled “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Pre Employment Transition Services.” Basically it explained the scope of the laws that govern DVRS’ work to help students who are in high school with preparation for their adult working life. I dare not try to say more than that, but if you want to look at the PowerPoint slides, you should contact Autism NJ. I’m sure I will learn more and understand better when A hits the teen years and all these aspects of transition planning start to become reality.
Another was “Instructional Aspects of Transition Planning” by Kelly Della Rosa and Cortney DeBiase of Alpine Learning Group. The basics were very interesting–identifying what the person’s strengths and interests are, and which type of work environment will best promote a sense of work satisfaction and personal happiness; assisting in job sampling and skills acquisition; and implementing effective communication tools to improve job retention. I am still absorbing the info in the superb handouts on Site Assessment, Employee Characteristic Assessment, and one which is a guide for employers on Supported Employment and Supported Volunteerism. A training manual like this is excellent for helping well meaning employers who want to hire autistic adults to have successful experiences, and design work environments and assign tasks which tap into the strengths of these employees. I especially liked the explanation of what benefits a job coach can provide.
It reminded me of the times I’ve been to Marshall’s, and have seen autistic people working with job coaches on stocking shelves and tidying up merchandise after customers have descended like packs of wolves. One of those times, I was looking for some shoes, but the employee was getting so frazzled every time I moved a pair from a shelf that I smiled and moved on to another section of the store, and returned later. I live with A, after all, and am used to being managed! I thought the job coach was clever to have the employee practicing there during mid morning hours, when the store is relatively quiet. There are examples all around us, if we can spot them, of special needs adults being integrated into the community to engage productively. It gives me hope. Clearly we have to put in the work so that these eager youngsters can keep their jobs and be valued by their employers.
I do want to say that I would like to see our South Asian business owners connect with job skills programs, and step up to the plate to hire special needs employees in a meaningful way. If any of you are reading this, please think about it. We all yearn for our kids to find bright futures, and it is no different from you reaching out to your network and asking someone to consider your neurotypical kid for an internship, or a foot in the door for an interview, or for help in polishing up a resume. Let’s all be part of the solution, and not shaft this critical aspect of special needs care onto the nebulous outside world.
I was impressed by Maria McGinley’s talk on “Developing Individualized, Thorough, Effective Transition Plans.” Throughout this conference, I felt that the speakers who are lawyers ran away with the show. They probably see so many transition challenges that they are uniquely poised to speak from a position that understands where educators, parents, and special needs individuals are coming from. And of course lawyers necessarily develop mad speaking skills, so their presentations were crisp and effective.
I did not know there was such a thing as an autism attorney. But Maria McGinley is one. Her talk touched on IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the huge impact that the recent Supreme Court decision in the Endrew F v Douglas County School District case has had on the crafting of IEPs as far as giving students a chance to make meaningful and “appropriately ambitious” progress. Transition planning begins at age 14, and must address self-advocacy, along with other goals. The speaker touched very poignantly on the need to inform a child of the diagnosis, and showed us an example of a client who did not know she had autism, and the limitations this placed on her ability to participate in her transition planning. Socked me right in the gut, because I’ve started gently introducing the autism explanation to A, and always retreat to take shuddering breaths afterwards. It’s not an easy conversation to have.
Anyway, the brilliant strategy of this talk was in using case studies to show us where transition planning IEPs were lacking, how the rewrites made the goals more concrete, and how the educators’ attitudes towards the students could be gleaned in the word choices as they wrote up the various academic, functional and post-secondary goals. I found it fascinating that parents and educators were seated in one room, listening to someone hammer out goals that, in the end, serve the needs of the child best. It is wrenching and difficult to be the parent in the equation, and I’m sure it is exhausting and frustrating to be the educator. The speaker’s language was very unbiased, and she gave separate tips to parents, students and IEP teams about how to prepare for and participate in IEP meetings. I loved this talk, and want to hear more.
There is one more talk I want to write about, but will save it for another time, because it is hard for me to engage with emotionally. MOAR LATER!