You are currently browsing all posts tagged with 'transition planning'.
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Making Doors

  • Posted on February 21, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As much effort as I intend to expend on changing the tract that Alex has been placed on, the long-term goal isn’t necessarily to “tract” him at all. You see, Alex has talent. Alex has had many disadvantages and has foregone the typical art instruction children receive in the United States for many years, yet he has an extraordinary interest and talent with visual arts.

These aren’t just the words of a proud mother. I know that I have little skill in assessing any form of visual art and even less aptitude in creating them. So, the best I could discern was to recognize that Alex’s art—indeed the art of all four of our boys—is better than anything I can produce, and to recognize (from the art training I have received) certain qualities that seemed rather remarkable. But, even to me, this didn’t mean much. So, I obtained the opinions of others who have more skill with assessing and creating visual arts. Turns out, I wasn’t wrong. In fact, the reactions I’ve gotten to Alex’s artwork (not to mention the other boys’) has been quite enthusiastic.

Now, as a professional writer, which is a form of art, I know how difficult it can be to make a career out of a talent and interest in a particular art form. Even when you have the advantages of encouragement, advanced schooling, and more or less “normal” interpersonal skills, advancing a career in the arts is a huge challenge. Many people try and more fail than succeed. The automatic conclusion is that it would be ridiculous to pursue such a path for Alex, because the odds are very much against him.

Yet, I also know that there are people with disabilities, even profound disabilities, who do pursue art as a career and do succeed in their endeavors. I also know that Alex experiences joy when creating his art and he experiences joy when sharing his art with others. Now, Alex experiences joy doing several different things—watching videos and swimming are prime examples. But art is one of the few things that he experiences joy when sharing it with others. This is significant in ways I can’t even articulate. If you get it, good; if not, well, then, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

So, yes, the odds are long. Yes, it’s not something that will earn him a living right out of school. Yes, it’s something that will require special support just to make it possible. But it’s worth it. It’s worth pursuing. It’s worth it, because everybody deserves the opportunity to at least try to do what they love for a living.

So, you see, I’m not just looking for backdoors to open up a more acceptable tract for my son. I’m going to make the doors he needs to do what he loves.

Finding Backdoors

  • Posted on February 19, 2014 at 10:00 AM

I was doing research for my schoolwork when I found the current e-mail address and LinkedIn contact information of an old associate. Now, she is in a position of influence in the State of Wisconsin. I sent her a message, reminding her how I knew her, updating her about my experiences since we last met, and asking for her assistance. I was somewhat surprised when she replied almost immediate. We quickly struck up a correspondence about what’s going on here.

She told me she couldn’t help directly, but said, “I would start by filling out a DVR application once he is 15 or 16, and work directly with them if your school district is giving you problems. Also, contact the Transition Improvement Grant (TIG) coordinators directly for support. They work on a DPI grant, but are there to help school district improve around transition services. Everyone knows sheltered workshops are an outdated, bad practice and that today’s youth who have been included in school both expect and deserve more.”

Now, I have a set of tasks which I will use to open some backdoors that will, in turn, redirect Alex’s transition planning into a more productive, integrated direction. Sometimes the key isn’t knowing what to do, but knowing who to ask to find out what to do. As difficult as networking is for some of us and as difficult as it can be for others to ask for help, sometimes networking will be the difference between success and failure. And, when you’re talking about your child’s future, that difference is really the only thing that matters.

What Could Be: Employment Possibilities

  • Posted on February 12, 2014 at 10:00 AM

I’ve just learned about a new program through the WI BPDD: Let’s Get to Work. This program presents its goals as being:

  • Earlier connection to vocational rehabilitation
  • Early work experiences while still in high school (paid and unpaid)
  • Better transition training for teachers
  • No entry for youth straight into segregated work settings
  • Access to transportation to get to work
  • Person centered planning to identify interests, strengths, skills
  • Engage the broader community and decision makers in discussions of youth employment
  • Access to general education core/academic classes and extra-curricular activities as they relate to the students’ interests and career goals
  • Connect students and their families to information on post-secondary and career options, work incentive benefits counseling, and community activities, starting no later than age 15.

It’s only at the pilot stage. But it’s promising, so promising… But it’s not the transition environment my family must navigate.

What Is: Employment Possibilities

  • Posted on February 10, 2014 at 10:00 AM

The frustration is ever-present. I look at my sons: Willy, Alex, and Ben. I see their potential. They are different children with different interests, different abilities, and different futures. I see how bright their futures could be.

But, when I look around at what is within my community, the future turns dark. Sure, Willy’s potential and abilities are well-recognized. After all, he’s close enough to normal for those charged with preparing him for the future to see something bright ahead of him. But, then there’s Alex, who is not normal, not even close. He’s gifted and talented, but also significantly disabled. The future proposed for him involves sheltered workshops and a lifetime of dependence and poverty.

I’ve visited one of these workshops for an article I wrote. The people were kind, caring, and committed to the people with developmental disabilities in their care. The entire environment was devoted to giving these people, who were believed by some to be incapable of work, an opportunity to work and to socialize and to participate in their community. The people I spoke to believe in what they do and believe that what they do is in the best interests of their workers.

Yet, I also know that there are instances of abuse in workshops just like that. I know these environments are segregated. I know the work they do is menial, not artistic. I know they are paid subminimum wages. I know that these people often go “home” to group homes where professional caregivers halfheartedly tend to their needs.

This is better than what used to be, but it’s far from what could be. And it’s not good enough for my son. It shouldn’t be good enough for anyone.

Looking Ahead

  • Posted on January 13, 2014 at 10:00 AM

I started the New Year with a vacation in honor of my brother’s visit for the holidays. From the week of Christmas through last week I think I got a total of maybe three work days in. The rest of the time I either rested or socialized. Housework, of course, doesn’t take vacations, so it’s not like I did nothing. I just didn’t do much writing.

One of those days was spent cleaning Alex’s room, including removing the jumped-to-bits mattresses and boxsprings from his room and downsizing to the one bed. I bought him a new mattress—no boxspring—and we placed it on the floor in anticipation of a special kind of bed that will be made up for him. We spent most of the school day at that project and Alex was very pleased with the results. In the coming months, we hope to do something similar for Ben’s room and maybe even Willy’s room. The goal is to give their spaces a facelift and leave it with a more personal touch.

Another way we kicked off the New Year was to meet our new social worker. Under the autism waiver, we’ve worked with the same fantastic lady for the entirety of our term. She’s been at least on the periphery of every major event in our lives for the last decade. Luckily, we don’t have to say goodbye, but we did have to say hello to someone new. The new lady brings different skillsets and different knowledge. After talking with her briefly, we began to consider some new prospects for the boys, especially Alex and Ben. For one thing, there is now a school for children with exceptional special needs, i.e. autism, which may be a better place for Alex and Ben to attend school. It’s only about 15 to 20 minutes away, and since both boys are “segregated” from their regular education peers anyway, it might be best for them to be in school dedicated to their needs. On the other hand, we’re also on the lookout for local art classes/instruction sessions for students with special needs. In short, she took me seriously when I said the boys have talents we’d like to foster and nurture for the sakes of their future.

Alex’s communication needs are still very much in the forefront of our thoughts. While he’s growing and expanding his interests (more about that later), his communication challenges still hold him back in significant ways. Ben, on the other hand, is becoming more communicative on his own. For example, when the nail on the toe he almost broke a while back tore below the quick, he made this fact known by saying, “Band-Aid please.” This being a first for Ben, I asked him if he had an “owie” (something I wasn’t convinced he’d recognize) or if he wanted to play with it. He said, “Owie. Band-Aid please.” Then, he moved his foot to draw attention to his bloody toe. Needless to say, he got his Band-Aid. The remarkable thing is that he’s not only left it on, he’s let me change it and left the new ones on while his toe nail heals. His toe is doing much better now, and he’s not limping nearly as much as he was. Pretty soon it will be entirely healed!

The main focus of this New Year will be on transition planning for the two older boys. Despite his initial reluctance, Willy is now interested in going to college so he can learn cool things like his Uncle Patrick. (Apparently, the things I’ve been learning for the last seven years of college just aren’t cool enough for Willy.) As Alex’s interests expand, they gravitate more towards the visual arts, including multi-dimensional arts, and that continues to be my hopes for him in lieu of the school’s plans. The eye of this year is fixed on the future, doing what we can to make sure our children’s futures are as luminous as they are.

A Look to the Future

  • Posted on November 15, 2013 at 10:00 AM

As someone who is working hard to realize my dreams and as someone who is adapting to my changing dreams, I think about the future and what it takes to be where you want to be when you get there. This skill comes in handy when I go to IEP meetings and the staff brings up the issue of “transition planning,” which refers to my children’s transitions out of the school system and into their adult lives.

Alex’s IEP meeting came first and, surprisingly, we discussed transition planning more in his meeting than in Willy’s. The impression I have from these meetings is that they have an established track for “people like Alex,” which involves building “job skills” and being transitioned into a sheltered work environment. Kandu and Riverside are two local examples that involve creating work for people with special needs that severely interfere with their ability to get “normal,” competitive jobs.

I understand why these tracks exist and, for the most part, don’t have a problem with their existence. This post isn’t about the problems I do have with such facilities either.

According to his teachers, Alex has good “job skills” and he enjoys the work. But there’s something Alex enjoys more and that’s art. I know there are individuals who, with appropriate assistance, can share their art with the world and have that as their vocation, even though they have special needs that severely interfere with their ability to live “normal” lives. Special needs, even severe special needs, don’t mean lack of talent. Unfortunately, his teachers don’t necessarily share my understanding of this kind of opportunity.

Part of it is that “artist” is a rather tough, competitive gig anyway you look at it. I know, because while my art is very different from Alex’s many of the struggles are quite similar. I know Alex would need support to make him successful on such a unique track, and I know that some of this support would be beyond my capabilities. But it is possible. It would also be conducive to Alex’s disposition in ways a sheltered work environment would not be.

It’s hard to know what Alex wants. I don’t know if Alex thinks about his future. Even if he does, there are few ways he can communicate his thoughts so that we can understand. But I know I don’t want his options to be limited to a track to a sheltered work environment. I want him to be able to choose to be who and what he wants to be.

Then, there’s Willy. At his meeting, he announced that he doesn’t want to go to college. But he still wants to design video games. I’m not sure the latter is possible without the former, but then again, if he learns the skills he needs, then he can do what he wants with the right support. Again, I know it’s possible and I know at least some of what he’ll need to make it possible for him. He also wants to have our house to himself—good luck with that one, buddy!