When a child is transitioning to adulthood, it can be intimidating for any family. Adding a disability to the mix can make things even more daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Independence and autism can coexist.
Tanja made sure she prepared her autistic son, Andy, for life on his own after college by teaching practical and social skills from the beginning. Skills like cooking, cutting the grass, and tying shoes were ingrained in Andy as soon as Tanja thought he was mature enough to do so and understand the importance of independence. Through consistency and practice, Tanja learned that her son thrives off of routine and she wanted to be sure to work within his needs to ensure success.
Andy attended a private school where he earned a high school diploma, and while he didn’t have much assistance from his school on a formal transition plan, she did feel supported in her efforts to prepare him for adulthood. Support from family, friends and social groups were also critical in Andy gaining independence and he now feels confident stepping into the real world as an autistic man.
Well, I think the main thing we did was trying to encourage him to do things on his own. I mean, obviously, Andy has autism, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t do lots and lots of things. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for him to learn something and to catch on. But he’s very routine focused, so once he gets into a routine and once he’s mastered something, and it becomes part of his routine, you don’t even really have to remind him to do it. He remembers, and he just does it as a matter of course. So, that’s, trying to remember that he can do lots of things is important. We also got his siblings involved. He has two older sisters, and they have been great about teaching him how to do things. They were the ones who taught him how to tie his shoes. They were the ones who taught him how to ride a bicycle. So, you can get the whole family involved. The girls actually, I think, enjoyed the challenge of it. We’re all part of a family, so we help each other.
It can go well, by the way. And so, it’s good how I’m like learning how to wash clothes by myself. And, by the way… And so, I don’t wanna like live here forever. I need to like, do things on my own. And by the way, my parents aren’t gonna be here forever, I know, so they’re teaching me stuff, and I’m cutting the grass sometimes. And, I’m also, every Monday late afternoon, I take out the trash and the recycling, and every once in a while, my grandmother who’s very smart, I’ve been sometimes coming to her house and she’s been teaching me to cook on my own. She’s a really good cook. Well, by the way, when I went to college, like before I was, my grandmother who’s very smart, started out the program and she, and my parents didn’t know what I’m gonna do after high school, so like, my grandmother drove up to Bossier City, Parish Community College, and talked about like the Program for Successful Employment for people who have autism like me, like to start like in Baton Rouge. So, she got all started and when I, and during that first year when was there, it went well. But I did do some learning how I, with me getting a job someday, and especially with customer service, you always wanna have great customer service. And the second year too went well, but the first year was really much, lots of with the learning. And the second year when I was there, we just did like some stuff like screen printed T-shirts and stuff, and like just thought about signs or like logos of our own place. And throughout that year during the, when the fourth quarter was coming, covid hit. And so, we weren’t able to graduate in-person. We graduated virtually.
So we, I graduated from BRCC in 2020.
It was through our community college here in Baton Rouge, it’s called Program for Successful Employment. And Andy attended that program and he learned how to do, like he said, customer service. They did some T-shirts and things like that. They did have to finish it up though online because of covid.
But he’s finished with that program now, and he actually does have a job now.
Yes, I do. I now work at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. And one of the best parts that I’ve been doing about myself is cleaning through the museum, especially on doorknobs and windows. And I’ve been doing a really good job with that, like they were really appreciating me doing all that kind of stuff.
And they have a great staff who, and I adore them.
Not really. We did send him to a private school and they were great. They really were.
It was a mainstream school though, so he did get a real diploma though. He did not get a certificate of completion, he got an actual diploma from the state.
But they did have a great job training program, or customer service was the name of a class.
And one of the teachers taught that and he learned a lot of that. And that was very helpful when he worked and I think that will be helpful for any student.
To learn about a customer, take a customer service class in high school. I don’t know if the public schools offer that or not, but that was helpful. They had a little shop at school where they sold cookies.
Cookies. And so, he worked in the cookie store. I think he ate a lot of the cookies.
[Andy] Mm hm.
[Interviewer] How can you not?
So that was helpful. It was a nice school. They were very accommodating, I would say.
I know that’s not always the case. But it was hard to find the right fit for him. He did have an IEP and he received some services. He had speech services, which I think was basically, she came and helped him with his homework, and he also received APE through the school system. And those were great.
[Interviewer] So this is Adapted Physical Education?
That was great. Always seemed like we always got a really good person through the years for the APE, real spunky people.
[Andy] Mm hm.
There’s an organization here in town, it’s a nonprofit called Families Helping Families and they provide a lot of support free of charge. They’re one of the few places that do provide something for free. But they were a great resource. Folks that work there have people with disabilities as well. They gave us a lot of great information in one place. They had a resource library that we used a lot to get information on doctors, schools, therapies, without having to call all over town. And then also another thing that was helpful is I was a part of a Facebook group of local parents of kids with disabilities. And I got a lot of great information from that group. Well it wasn’t a Facebook group, it was a Yahoo. Well, they do have a page but it’s a Yahoo group and you can post questions in there. And I got a lot of great ideas when I had problems, from other parents on that site, because Exceptional Lives didn’t exist at that point.
Oh, there was like some social groups, like I’m in, I’m in Baton Rouge Young Life Capernaum, and that’s been a great thing for me. Like that was a great thing for me, like doing after high school because we had no plans. Like, what was it gonna be really like? And my, with the socialness, because I was real, I really enjoyed the socialization through high school. So Young Life’s been great for me.
The social component was definitely missed when he left high school. ‘Cause as you see, Andy’s very social, and so he really missed that. And our neurologist referred us, said, “Well, you need to,” he went for his checkup and she said, “Well you need to join Young Life.” And so she put us in touch and it’s, he has loved it. It’s been great.
Fabulous kids. Met a bunch of people we didn’t already know, which was great.
Mm hm. Wonderful blessing. Okay, if it’s like people like with autism, I would tell them to join Young Life as one of the things, and because it’s very social. And just in case if like, if they just get kind of a little lonely, they should like join that group.
Yeah, looking for groups, try to organize people into groups because there is a social factor that is missing, for a lot of these folks are just lonely, especially after school’s over with. And we’ve also started another group this summer because Young Life only works, they only meet during the school year. So a bunch of parents were talking, we thought, “Well, let’s just do our own thing for the summertime.” So we’ve been getting together, just at different people’s houses. The kids, the young adults go off and do whatever, they watch a movie or play a game, and the other adults stay and talk. It’s just very loosely organized. It doesn’t have to be a big organized thing, but just trying to keep folks out and seeing people and doing things. Of course covid’s been the worst, but–
But we’re making it through. And as far as employment goes, when your kid’s about to graduate, you just tell everyone that your kid’s graduating and they are looking for a job.
Word will spread. And even if you can’t get paid employment, volunteer. There’s so many things these kids can do, but they need to get some practice. So, be willing to say, okay, my kid will come over there and volunteer with whatever and then it might end up leading to a job. So like I said, don’t just say, “Okay, well we don’t know what to do.” And then the kid just stays at home all day every day. It may take a little time, but just tell everyone, “We are looking for a job for our child.” And you know, maybe people will start thinking and you may come up with a great idea. We did, the jobs that he’s had, the radio station job was through Baton Rouge Community College. The guy there found that job for him because he knows Andy loves the radio and loves listening to radio and loves radio DJs, etc. So he found that job, and the job that he has now at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum was found by his magical grandmother who he’s referring to. She just, she was somewhere and started talking to the director and the director said, “I’m interested.” So, Employ BR is supposed to find these jobs for these individuals, but yeah, you can go, we hooked them up. They’re real nice ladies over there. We hooked them up with Employ VR to make it work.
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.
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