I am putting down my teacher hat for this post, and picking up my mom hat. However, I think teachers will find my thoughts helpful and thoughtful if you teach high school students.
In most states, our kids with special learning needs can continue in the public school system until they are 21 years old. Depending on how old your own kiddo is, this may seem like a long way off, but, believe me, it is right around the corner. From the time my son was 2 years old, the school system has been charged with not only educating him, but providing a safe and engaging place to go for most of the day so I could live my life and pursue a career. As we entered the 2017-2018 school year, we were faced with the scary reality that Jimmy would turn 21 in February and his school career (and likely mine) would be over in June. It was beyond terrifying and, the waves of sadness and panic would hit more often with every passing month. I had no idea what we were going to do. I had done all the right things:
- Contacted the Office of Vocational Rehab to start a customized employment plan
- Made sure we were on every waiting list possible for funding assistance
- Tried to start lining up and finding some qualified people to help me
- Made sure the school was teaching him good job skills
- Went to every training opportunity and even became certified in customized job development
It wasn’t enough.
- The Office of Vocational Rehab lost my application for the third year in a row.
- The waiting list is REALLY long.
- The few people I tried to hire, were in no way able to handle Jimmy’s behaviors.
- The transition coordinator at the school quit for the third year in a row (thus my lost applications to the Office of Vocational Rehab).
- There are so few opportunities for kids and adults who have significant behavioral challenges. Pretty much, one strike and you are out policy for most opportunities I found.
So, I just prayed and hoped it would all somehow miraculously work out.
But, then in January, something changed. I will never really know what it was, as Jimmy cannot communicate very much to us, but suddenly, after 18 years, he no longer was willing to go to school. I mean, he fought it every step of the way. He is 220 pounds, so when he doesn’t want to do something, he doesn’t do it. He even tried to jump out of the school van as it was going 65 mph down the highway on the way to school one morning. Eventually, the police were called that day to get him safely off the shoulder of Interstate 81 and take him to the school.
I thought it was the van ride, so I started taking him to school myself before leaving for work every morning. It was 30 minutes out of my way, and left me with a 90 minute drive to work, but I was willing to try anything. I just wasn’t ready for Jimmy to be done with school and me done with my career. But, after watching Jimmy be dragged out of my car every morning by 4-5 grown adults, Jimmy screaming no, and seeing him laying in the parking lot as I drove away, I realized whether I was ready or not, the time had come…. school was over for Jimmy Joy.
It was a really good ride, and I am so thankful for all the great teachers, assistants and other people who made his time with them happy and safe. I also think, God had a hand in all this, as He knew I was literally counting down the days and weeks when it would all be over. This way, I didn’t have time to get myself worked up into a full-blown state of depression. It was just suddenly over, and Jimmy and I were now on our own for most of the day.
The sad reality: I did have to quit my job (the third career I have lost over the years due to this illness, autism). Jimmy’s behaviors have also not diminished, so going out into the community is not much of a possibility at the moment. We are working on it however. We also got waiver services (YEAH!) BUT, cannot find anyone willing or qualified to work with him at the moment. We take it one day at at time. We take a walk every morning which is a huge victory I am thankful for every day. And, there is a plan in July to start working on customized employment possibilities for Jimmy in our town. It is hard to remain optimistic without being constantly disappointed, but I am learning to enjoy this new life, and I know it was time. It was most definitely time.