Parents of kids with special needs tend to fret about the future. Emotional school conferences, constant therapies, and disappointing test scores combine, causing even the calmest parents great anxiety. “In your mind,” one mother shared, “your child goes from age three to thirty in a New York minute…you imagine what your child will need to overcome before adulthood, and it’s completely overwhelming.”
Helping students transition to adulthood is a current “hot topic” in special education. Check the course offerings for any conference on autism, developmental disabilities or mental health, and you’ll likely find at least one lecture addressing this issue. The reality is that with the rapidly growing numbers of kids being diagnosed with disabilities, communities need to be ready to welcome them into adulthood…in the neighborhood and in the workplace. We know that kids with special needs require practice and supervision as they learn new skills; the earlier we begin vocational training, the more likely we are to set students up for success.
One school system is providing a unique opportunity as part of its Extended School Year (ESY) offerings for fifth and sixth graders. During the months of June and July, students in the ESY program will each have a community-based “job.” Students as young as eleven have jobs in town, allowing them to practice skills in “real life” situations. One student is a hostess at a local restaurant; another is checking ID cards at the Rec Center. A young man in the program who has an interest in cars is working for an auto detailing shop. Each session is approximately one hour (allowing students to experience success and remain on task) Students have a “job coaches” from the businesses that provide feedback and support. This is a creative model that begins vocational training at an early age…benefitting students, parents and the community.
After pondering this program, I began thinking about how local churches could pitch in. Wouldn’t it be amazing if churches began to reach out to the local schools and offering summer time or short-term job coaching? What a long-term difference this could make…allaying some of parents’ fears of the future, building the students’ confidence, alleviating some of the red-tape school for school personnel trying to make placements. Imagine how many kids might enter a church for the first time and experience the joy of making a contribution. Think of the relationships that could form. Consider the hearts that might be changed…
Here’s to working together!