Life is not easy. Especially when you are in a family of invisible illnesses and disabilities. It can be serious, funny and downright hard! But we make it. Just like everyone else. We just do it in a different style.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I'm Back...And Have Great News!

Classes are winding down, but I cannot contain my excitement. Even though I want to talk about my own successes, first and foremost, I want to crow like a happy, proud Mommy for my oldest son, Andrew.

During the big silence here on this blog lately, my son has survived a whirlwind of activity. First came the Youth Summer Job Program workshop and job fair. Then came the week away with DORS (Division of Rehabilitative Services) for a career assessment. We are still waiting on the report from DORS, which usually takes a month or two. We do know that he passed all the assessments with flying colors. That alone makes me very hopeful.

The summer job workshop wouldn't allow parents to even go into the room, which made me very upset. Even though the program was slanted toward children with developmental disabilities, it didn't seem like the program leaders knew anything or had any training in actually placing children with autism or learning disabilities in the job market. Then came the fiasco of a job fair that left my son stressed and turned off. Over 1000 children showed up, crowding the hotel lobby and walkway. We never received the time allocation call, so we showed up first thing in the morning (8:00am) only to find out that he didn't need to be there until 11:30am. By the time our allotted time came, the place was packed and we couldn't even find the end of the line. By this time, my son was visibly stressed and pacing. I decided that the whole atmosphere was not conducive to a good interview and left. If he couldn't be seen in a positive light, what was the point of seeing anyone?

Having a child with high-functioning autism requires a lot of groundwork. Nothing is ever just off the cuff. If neuro-typical young adults need to practice for interviews, it is imperative that young adults with autism practice early and often. For weeks ahead of time, Andrew practiced the right pressure for a handshake. Not too firm to crush their fingers and always more gentle with women, a little more firm with men. We worked on making that eye contact, which was very hard for Andrew to maintain. I literally counted off seconds so he could understand how long to hold a gaze. Low emotional expression is the norm for him, so we practiced flashing those pearlies at least once every minute or so. Even if he just tugged at the corners of his mouth that was better than his usual dead-pan look. He hates smiling, unless there is a joke, so I told him to think of something funny, but don't break out in laughter. He thought that was funny!

Finally we went through a whole series of interview questions, a body language overview and what to do with his hands. Even though his step-dad was with him during the interview (I let him know that having parents was unusual, but that for his first time out, I thought it was necessary), he was to look, listen and learn how interviews go.

After about a week, we got a call asking if Andrew had gone on any interviews. We said no. She mentioned a car painting warehouse. I explained that Andrew has high-functioning autism/Asperger's and also that I had allergies (he couldn't come home smelling like paint or chemicals) and was mobility impaired. I know it came out like a mouthful, but there wasn't anyway to get around it. We needed a miracle.

Well, never underestimate God when you ask for a miracle.

Last week, we got a call to see if Andrew would go out for an interview at a furniture manufacturer in a nearby town. It was for furniture assembly. I pictured sawdust everywhere. I was concerned about glues or stains, but felt like it was better than all day painting. On the day of the interview, I tucked his resume (that I had expertly typed up for him) in an folder and told him to hand that to the person who interviewed him. My hubby took him down and I crossed my fingers.

Well, he came back, saying that they wanted him to come back again to meet with the CFO of the company for a possible office job. I was simply ecstatic! Trying not to make him antsy, I tried to stay calm, while I told him I had hoped for something like this.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against working on the warehouse floor, but I don't know a single child with autism that likes noisy, dusty environments with a lot of people (my son hates everything like that from movie theaters, amusement parks to malls). He will do what I ask him to do, but after awhile, you will see the strain in his behavior, mood and body. Plus he would be on his feet all day long and he has low muscle tone in his hands and arms. I knew that initially, he would do okay, but eventually, he would begin to suffer from it.

Well, today, was the interview. I sent him out in his taupe pants and his office blue shirt. He looked just like an office employee, and at six feet tall now, he makes an impressive entry. I prayed he would get that job.

And, he did!

Monday of next week, he starts as assistant to the accounting office, and working directly with the CFO of the company!

I am so excited, I could cry and scream at the same time! They are even negotiating whether he can be paid more due to the different nature of the job from the summer program. He will work 30 hours a week to start and if this works out, he may have the opportunity to return next year during school and the summer after that.

Out of all the hardship we have endured lately (we are financially quite strapped, trying to provide all the special care everyone needs in here), this was a godsend! Andrew is very thrifty with money, so I know we won't have to worry about him squandering it all (he still has gift cards from Christmas!). This will give him experience and confidence.

He participated in our annual community clean-up this last weekend. As he road off in a truck with the other men to pick up items from the elderly, I realized that I am saying good-bye to my little boy. He went off and didn't even look back. Monday, when I drop him off to work (the office is literally 10 minutes from our house!), I am sure he will do the same thing.

It will hurt, but in the end, I'll be okay. I raised him to do just what he is doing; growing up confident and able.

BTW, one line for me. I got a 99.4 in Project Management and 100 in Image Editing.