This blog post was written by my friend Janet Ha. Janet and I met the first day of ECFE when our respective sons were turning 2. At the time I was just realizing something was different about William's development. While my career in ECFE was short-lived (turning into one in ECSE), luckily our friendship was not. In addition to our friendship, Janet has been a part of William's life professionally, as his para in Kindergarten Kids Club. She is now making a career out of working with kids on the spectrum, specifically those in transition from high school to adult life. Here is her post, for which I thank her immensely...
I have worked with the Edina summer program for high school students on the autism spectrum for 5 years. This is our chance to be out in the “real world”. We work on transition skills, visit post-secondary schools and observe people doing all kinds of jobs. We talk about adaptations we might need to have a job some day. We volunteer, explore the community and do recreational activities together. Most of all we try to foster peer relationships among the students.
Some parents shy away from sending their child to the summer program. For many reasons, one being they worry their child will feel more disabled since everyone there also has a disability. Or it is better to make arrangements with non-disabled peers. Which is fine, if those arrangements happen, but in high school anyway, often they don't.
Here is a story of one day in our program: We went to Savers, a big thrift store in Bloomington. There had been a lot of discussion about how it might look and smell. A lot of "Mom says it will smell bad." I told them we were not leaving until each person had chosen at least one article of clothing, and preferably two. This took an hour and a half.
We all spent a lot of time in the book/toy/puzzle area. One student convinced me to buy a special edition Monopoly game for the resource room for $3.99. (It is pretty nice, and has an improved bankers box and a carousel for the properties.) We got back on the bus and headed over to the laundromat at 50th and Xerxes.
Three students placed their single items in their own machines, but the others threw all their items in together. Lots of excitement around the change machine. A couple kids discovered sensory input by leaning against the powerful washers. Four students played Monopoly, hashing out the rules together (since each had a different idea about such things as Free Parking and whether or not property should be auctioned if the person who lands on it doesn't want it.)
Anyway, I love the program. It be a real source of peer support and yes, education minus the anxiety. Plus, at only three days a week, everyone still has four days to play video games in the basement.