Adult Transition, Autism, Video

Autism and Social Interaction: Meet Johnny and Jonathan | Mastering Independence for Young Adults with Disabilities

Transitioning into adulthood can be a daunting experience, especially for those with disabilities related to autism and social interaction. Jonathan’s (who is autistic) parents took advantage of his father’s role at a local community college and enrolled their son as a part-time student to continue their journey to prepare him for life after high school. By providing their son with opportunities to develop important life skills, Jonathan was able to gain independence and adopt life skills like caring for a pet, participating in community organizations, and being employed. 

“He’s had an IEP pretty much since the first grade. So we were extremely involved in that journey. But pretty much I would say probably the typical things. As he got into the high school years though, the note taking, any slides or whatever that we could get beforehand were very, very helpful.”

One of the biggest factors in Jonathan’s success has been his involvement in social groups like Young Life. These groups have played a crucial role in helping him improve his social skills and build lasting friendships that will support him throughout his life. With the combination of his parents’ support and the opportunities provided by these groups, Jonathan is well on his way to being successful and fully equipt with the tools to be an adult.

Learn more

What kinds of programs can support my child as they become an adult? (podcast)

Helping your child to problem solve on their own (podcast)

Life after the IEP: Helping my child with a disability transition to adulthood (podcast)

Transition to adulthood for young people with disabilities: a timeline.(blog)

Prepare your child for the workforce with job skills training for young adults with disabilities (blog)

1 Quick Question: How can Disability Services support my child when they get to college?  (blog)

We actually started probably prior to high school in pushing him to his limits and everything that we do. So he, for instance, joined ROTC when he was in high school and I started working at 16, so I sort of expected the same thing outta both of my boys. So Jonathan actually started working for Chick-fil-A at 17.


[Interviewer] Wow, good for you.


And worked there for about three years until Covid. And of course we all know what happened with that. But we also encouraged him to get involved in some social groups. Young Life is grouped that he’s a part of that meets every Tuesday, and he meets with that. And, of course PSE has been huge for us, as I always share with people. I’m not only the director, but I’m also a parent, so I can relate.


[Interviewer] And so PSE, can you say what that is?


Yeah, PSE is the Program for Successful Employment here at Baton Rouge Community College, which started in the spring of 2017. And we work with young adults who have cognitive differences or are autistic. And it’s a two-year program. Our first year is typically life skills, and then the second year is typically a few classes as well. But then we also help them find employment out in the real world.


[Interviewer] That’s fantastic, yeah.


So we do that. Jonathan now works for Cara’s House, which is an animal shelter in our little area, in our parish. That’s in Ascension Parish. And he works there several days a week and he also takes a three hour class at BRCC. And this semester he’s taking psychology


When they started making me do stuff on my own.


[Interviewer] Yeah, what kind of things did you start to do on your own that you hadn’t done before?


Like sitting and taking tests on my own.


[Interviewer] Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. And the job at Chick-fil-A, how did that help you? What did you think of that? Did that help you to move, to go to your next job? Did it give, teach you some things?


It taught me patience.


[Interviewer] That’s great. That’s really important, yeah.


He was probably at one of the busiest Chick-fil-A’s in Baton Rouge. And he worked on Saturdays, so it was like millions of people coming in and out. So he enjoyed it quite a bit. And in addition to doing that and doing his internship at here, at school, but he also did pet sitting. So we live in a small neighborhood and so he got to be known as the person who would babysit the pets and he would go feed them and take them out and do whatever needed to be done for them.


[Interviewer] Nice.


So he did that as well.


[Interviewer] Great. And how, and how well did all of that preparation prepare him for the next phase?


Well, I think he just fostered a lot of independence with him. Jonathan likes to be at social events. He is socially awkward, but likes to be there. But this program, PSE program helped him gain friendships that he didn’t have before. He still goes out with the guys. They do Top Golf, they go to movies. He’s going to a basketball game this weekend. They went to the fair Saturday or Sunday. And so it’s helped him gain a lot of friendships that he just didn’t have in high school. So he’s around other young adults like himself. And so he’s accepted for his differences and it’s been a great aspect. And one that I, you know, share with the parents. Again, I let them know,, I’m not just the director but I’m a parent as well, so I know the things that you’re going through and the apprehensions that you may have. But I think one of those type of things did help kind of push him along. And we’re always push pull push. You can do that yourself. You know, we don’t need to do that for you. You know, obviously within limits. But we’ve always pushed him ever since he was much younger and we knew that there were some challenges for him.


When I learned to speak up more, mom and dad forced me out the house.


[Interviewer] They forced you outta the house?


Well, I wouldn’t say we forced you outta the house. One of the things we did do for him though is he has an older brother who did move out. And so we converted that area of the house into an apartment. So he has his own living room with a sleeper sofa and the TV. And of course his own bedroom, his own bathroom. So if guys wanna spend the night they can, but kind of gives him the sense of being on his own, but still being, you know, there at the house. We’ve, my wife has taught him to cook some minor things. Lately, he’s a big baker. He likes to make muffins, so almost every day there’s a new batch of muffins.


I changed the litter. And feed him, give him water, give him treats.


[Interviewer] Oh, that’s nice. That’s nice. And what does he give back to you? How does he help you?


He gives love.


[Interviewer] All right. That’s great. That’s really nice. So it sounds like you’re really interested in animals. So you did, you know, you did the pet sitting, you do this and now you say you’re working, or you were working in an animal shelter?


Well, he does work, he still works at Karen’s animal shelter. In fact, that’s where they met.


[Interviewer] Oh, you and the cat.


Connor, who is the cat. Connor and Jonathan met and he wanted to bring him home, and I said on the condition that you take 100%. So he has to buy his own food, you know, he buys his food, he buys his litter and everything. And so he’s 100. He has to vacuum every day, his area to keep the litter up, and he has to entertain him and all that good stuff.


He sleeps a lot though.


He does sleep a lot.


[Interviewer] He does? Yeah, yeah.


We’ve only had him three, four, five months, something like that. But he adjusted, I mean, like he’d been there all his life. And really attached to him and looks for him. And it’s very amazing the bond that he seems to have with Jonathan. He’s had an IEP pretty much since the first grade. So we were extremely involved in that journey. But pretty much I would say probably the typical things. As he got into the high school years though, the note taking, any slides or whatever that we could get beforehand were very, very helpful. They would pull him out for testing. So it was a little bit more of a quiet space. Give him extra time. Math was never his area of expertise. And so to see a page full of math questions kind of threw him off. So we learned that they may just give him one at a time on a sheet and say, “Okay, well here’s a math problem.” Cause he’s always wanting to rush through them. So I was like, okay, well here’s one problem, so let’s work through that. So we learned to, as he got older, we learned to pace and that kind of thing. And so for the most part, his teachers were just awesome. Ascension Parish has a great program for kids who may be in the SPED program. And so we took full advantage of that. We were extremely active in everything. My wife volunteered a lot in just other areas of the schools, the elementary, middle, junior and high school. And so we, he had a lot of those type of things. In helping him prepare and do well for when he graduated. And he did graduate with a diploma


Extended time.


[Interviewer] Okay, yeah, yeah.


Because we have so much time in class to take tests.


[Interviewer] Yeah, I imagine that would also just help with being less anxious about taking tests, yeah.


One of the things we’re fighting now in this class that he’s taking, psychology, which is all virtual, he only has a minute per question. So that’s definitely something we’re not used to. And despite preparation, so forth you only have that minute, so you have to move, move, move. So that’s been different for us this semester. My wife works a lot with him cause I’m usually here, but that is, that’s a challenge for us this year or this semester I should say. So that’s not something we’re used to, but he’s doing well.


[Interviewer] You were adapting.


Before this last test, he had a 90 average. So he’s doing good.


[Interviewer] That’s great.




[Interviewer] Okay, so do they give them to you ahead of time?



[Interviewer] Okay, all right. That’s great.


Yeah, he has some fine motor skill issues, so taking notes on his own was out of question. And so my wife and he would prepare weeks before the lessons to slowly build into it. So having those made it just wonderful for us so that we knew exactly what was being taught, what was covered, what to study. And so as he got into the high school years, that became extremely important for us because without it, we really wouldn’t know exactly what to study other than here’s a book, you know, study. And so this helped really zero in what the topic was and what really needed to be on target for.


Young Life is an international organization for, and I may get the first age, it’s either 13 or 14 up to 22. And so it’s an opportunity for young people and their parents, if they choose to do so, to meet, we meet on Tuesdays. Pretty much every Tuesday. And they do something together, maybe pizza, maybe hot dogs. It is faith-based. So a lot of times it’s a very small, little short bible study, but they mainly have fun and do crazy things. We have a Thanksgiving party coming up where we will join with the group that I helped co-lead, which is 23 and older. So like our group, we went bowling, we went to The Main Event where they have bowling and all kind of pool tables and video games and that kind of thing. So we got to know a lot of the parents there. He got to know a lot of the young people, and a lot of the young people from over, the guys that he went to school with here also were part of that.


[Interviewer] Oh, that’s nice.


And so it was, it definitely formed a great sense of community. And I think being part of a social group where parents can talk, like when we went to the social security thing we ask parents, how did you do this? When did you do that? Who did you talk to? So it gives them an opportunity to, for us to not only bond with parents but also for him to bond with others as well. And, you know, have friends, and going out and that kind of thing. Just like anybody else.


[Interviewer] That’s great.


He doesn’t drive, but we take him, and parents take him we meet and sometimes we, they are off doing their thing, and we’re off somewhere else in the same facility and you know, we let them do the thing and we don’t intrude and that kind of thing.


[Interviewer] That’s good.


But Young Life has been really great. We’ve been members of that two or three years now, I guess maybe more. But it’s been very instrumental in his social skills. One summer he went away to camp for a week, no cell phones, no nothing. And he not only went with people from Young Life, but other parts of the city, and then other people, young people, that had no disabilities, who wanted to go for that part of it being an inclusionary type camp. And you got to meet some football players from one of the high schools. In fact, some of them had come over several times, and took ’em all out for hamburgers and things like that. And so he had that opportunity as well.


[Interviewer] That’s great. It sounds awesome.


Well, I think it begins before high school. And one thing that I don’t know that we shared with it is Jonathan and his brother are adopted from Russia. So we learned when we brought them home that Jonathan did have some challenges. And so we immediately began investigating those, and getting therapy and that kind of thing. So I think you have to acknowledge that early on. But definitely support them, you know, push them and challenge them, try to help them be as normal as that is possible and whatever that really means. You know, have friends go out, spend the night, go do things, let them go by themselves. You know, Jonathan has his own checking account, he has his own debit card, he has a credit card. Mom and dad hold that credit card, but he has a credit card. And so when he wants to buy things, he does use his own money and that kind of thing. He pays for all the cat’s expenses and those kind of things. So that is important. One of the things that we learned last year, we both had Covid and we had kept saying we’re gonna do a trust, a trust, a trust, trust. Well, we didn’t do it, we didn’t do it, we didn’t do it. So finally we like, we have got to get this done. So I think, you know, speaking with an attorney and getting a special needs trust, and one of the things I always remind the parents here is, mom, you’re not gonna be here forever. That’s the whole point of this program is for them to be independent. You need to make sure that you have their best interest at heart, being taken care of when you’re not here and that kind of thing. And it’s a hard thing to do, and it’s a hard thing to think about. But it’s something that’s definitely necessary. But I think as much as you can prepare them. Visit colleges if they’re interested, find out what their interests may be. You know, is this the right program? I mean, we’ve had students who have come in like this isn’t for me. I don’t want to do this. And the student has to want to do a program like this, and the parents and the family have to back them. They have to have that support, because if not, then the student is just not gonna make it. And they’re gonna struggle through the program and not live up to their fullest potential. The positions that we find in the community are not maybe something stereotypical of just sweeping and emptying trash or that kind of thing.


[Interviewer] So you’re talking about the employment opportunities that you find for the students that go through this program.


Right, so we find them things that hopefully are lifelong employment. And so we take great care at trying to search that out, but, helping them find jobs, and now that may be just pet sitting and that kind of thing, or yard work, mowing yards and that kind of thing. But you definitely have to be with them and definitely be involved in the IEPs. And like I always say question everything and that’s both good and bad. You know, you really have to say, well why are we doing this? And could we do this instead? Because there were a lot of things that we would say, well could we do this instead? Because we found that a certain way kind of hindered him a little bit. But if we did it this way, it didn’t. And so we were always looking for new things and then ask your your child as well. What do you need help with? What do you think would be good? Because you’ve gotta have that communication going back and forth. Otherwise you’re doing what you think is the right thing. And they may think oh, well, that’s not what I need at all. And that kind of thing. So, you know, ask a lot of questions and approach it as a team. And, you know, we were there when he was in the 10th grader of like, what’s next? Thankfully this program, the Program for Successful Employment came to be. And now they’re all over the country. And it’s definitely something that I think parents should start looking into. Cause there is more to life than just staying at home. There are opportunities out there. And they’re growing more and more every day.


Join social groups.


[Interviewer] Okay, join social groups. Yeah, yeah. No, that, that sounds like a really helpful thing. And it sounds like, did, so how, what did that help you to learn or do?


To talk to people more.


[Interviewer] Yeah.

The Families and Stories Campaign is a series of interviews that feature parents of children with disabilities. With topics ranging from transition to adulthood for youth with disabilities to child development milestones, parents, caregivers, and children share their individual joys, fears, and struggles with caring for and being a young person with disabilities. 

We know the journey can feel isolating; our Families and Stories Project amplifies the voices of families like yours and builds a community among us. We are here to help.

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