This year may seem a long time away, but it’s not – not if you are a parent of a child with Autism who is going to graduate from High School in this year.
It’s ONLY six years away.
At AISJ, students have their graduation year as part of their e-mail address, so I’ve been looking at Gabriel’s e-mail (Dotterweich.G.firstname.lastname@example.org) ever since he was in 1st grade.
Usually when I would see it, I would smile and shake my head and think,
“2023 is soooo far away.”
But it’s not. And it never really hit me until this year.
I think what’s different now is the fact that two of my students (who I’ve worked with in Learning Support since I arrived in Jeddah in 2011) are graduating this June.
I call them “my babies,” because they were just entering 6th grade when I met them; and they were both so short, and so tiny, and fresh out of Elementary School, and sooooo very precious and innocent.
(They are STILL precious and innocent, don’t get me wrong! 😉
But, NOW they both tower over me in height, and are wearing Senior jackets, and…. yeah. They’re full-on men now, not the “babies” I inherited when I arrived. I’ve told them both that I am going to lose it at their graduation this year (lose it meaning “cry, hard, probably uncontrollably”), because I’ve never known AISJ without them, and I truly consider them family.
Anyways, this year, THE main topic of conversation with them has been what they are going to do next year when they leave.
And I can never have this conversation without ending up thinking about my own boys – especially Gabriel – since he is the oldest and closest to graduation.
What will Gabriel DO when he graduates?
- Where is he going to live?
- HOW is going to live?
- Will he even be independent enough to live on his own?
A four-year university will probably not be an option, at least not at first.
This is pretty much a “given,” since he is on a modified curriculum – meaning he attends 7th grade classes but we simplify the content and allow him to access it on his reading/writing/comprehension level, which is around 4th/5th grade.
It would take several more years of high school beyond his Senior year for him to be able to access Freshman university level content – but I highly doubt he would be too excited about extending high school for a few more years.
I have to say though, that I am deeply encouraged by how many US and European universities are creating programs for students with Autism, so who knows…?!
But, even he if was to enroll in some type of university program, would he be able to survive on his own?
- Pay bills?
- Cook food (or even buy food?)
- Use an ATM?
- Not burn the house down?
My optimistic prediction: Yes, in six years, he will be able to live independently.
The thing about Gabriel is, he can be incredibly responsible and independent when he wants to be (meaning, if there’s something in it for him), meaning, a reward.
It’s a-MAZing how quickly he will move, or how hard he will work on a non-preferred task – IF he knows he’s going to get something he wants in return.
So, I created a behavior system for him (which I call a “Responsibility Chart, see below”) that gives him points for doing things he should do, and when he collects enough points, he can “spend” them on things like Xbox games, renting or buying movies on iTunes, etc. This is essentially an allowance system, without handing over actual money.
It is Gabriel’s responsibility to log on every day and document his points for the tasks he has completed.
Many of these tasks are super simple and deal with hygiene, and I have to say that for the most part, he is pretty good about taking care of his hygiene needs.
BUT, then he also has tasks such as homework, chores, trumpet practice, etc., – not as preferred…
So, to incentivize the more important things (or the tasks which take longer or take more effort (such as reading for 20 minutes every night), he receives more points.
And, as all parents know, it’s necessary for children to pay consequences for poor choices in behavior, so it is also possible for him to become grounded and/or to lose points.
AND, I realize there are people/parents who don’t believe in giving kids rewards.
Some people view rewards as “bribes,” and think that kids should be intrinsically motivated to do such things as brush their teeth, use deodorant, do their homework, etc…
- You want to have clean teeth? Brush ’em!
- Want to smell nice? Shower & deodorant, please….
- Want to learn? Do your own research!
Common sense? Of course. To a 40-year-old, yes, but not necessarily to a 13-year-old (with or without Autism...)
13-year-olds would much rather play their XBox for 8 straight hours and smell like a locker room than waste 15 minutes of that precious time taking a shower.
To those who don’t believe in giving rewards, I say, if you think about it, there are very few things in life where people do not expect to be extrinsically rewarded in some sort of way, no matter their age.
I teach because I love it. I am highly, intrinsically motivated to go to school every day and collaborate with my colleagues, in order to help improve the lives of our students. HOWEVER, you better believe that I expect to be paid for what I do (as does every other teacher I’ve ever known). Payment is my extrinsic reward.
So, of course, Gabriel’s points won’t last forever, and after awhile, I intend to make him work harder or longer for the points, until he becomes mostly intrinsically motivated to take a shower or do his homework (or at least, that’s the plan...).
And, beyond the points, I’m proud to say that Gabriel can already do many responsible and independent tasks on his own!
He can cook! He boils his own chicken, washes his own grapes, blends his own chocolate milkshakes, washes dishes, helps his little brothers pour their bowls of cereal, rides the bus home alone with Noah on our early-release school days, has his own phone, carries house keys and lets himself into our house, etc., etc.
He’s scared, though.
Any time we talk about the future, you can see the fear in his eyes. He’s even said some really insightful things like:
- “I don’t know how to make money.”
- “I don’t know how to pay for things.”
- “I don’t know how to travel on airplanes by myself.”
And I appreciate his honesty, and admire him for it.
I always reassure him that we will teach him (and we ARE teaching him; more about that in a future blog post); but we make sure he knows that he will never be alone if he doesn’t want to be. He will always be welcomed to stay and live with us, but I really don’t think he wants that.
His current obsession is to live in London, and we visited several Hard Rock Cafe restaurants this past summer in Asia (which he LOVED), so his current dream is to go be a waiter at the Hard Rock Cafe in London.
*I can’t lie; I have slightly higher aspirations for him than a waiter – and I don’t think he understands how SOCIAL a waiter has to be in dealing with the general public… (this is coming from someone who waited on thousands of tables all throughout her HS and university career….)
I’m grateful I have six years to help him understand that.
But I’ll tell you what – I believe the very definition of happiness is being independent.
Free and able to do what you want; live where you want, live how you want.
So, my love, if you want to be a waiter in 2023, we have six years to make it happen.
Your Daddy and I will do everything in our power to help you gain the skills and knowledge you will need to succeed on your own, and to become the best damn waiter in London.