Why Job Training Matters for Students With Autism
When my severely autistic son was high school age, the local public school system offered him a placement at the high school. I remember feeling the swell of hope in my throat as I met with the administrators. Nat ... at the high school, one of the best in the country! Up until then, Nat had attended private autism programs most of his school career because there were no district-based programs for him. Born in 1989, Nat was at the beginning of the huge autism wave that was to come. His childhood had been very lonely, with few options. I had been swallowing down dreams of inclusion for my firstborn for so many years.
I went to that team meeting expecting it to be pro forma: Of course I wanted this for Nat. But as the meeting progressed, my heart sank. This was not a placement I could accept for my son, who was enrolled in a year-round program at his private school and was just beginning vocational training—training that was hands-on, in the community, real-life, working with a job coach. The high school program, on the other hand, had no vocational program to show me. "It is individualized," they explained to me. But how could I sign on to something so ill-defined when certainty, prediction, and preparedness are a lifeline for so many autistic students, including my son? The school system ended up sending Nat back to his private school for five more years, to the tune of around $80,000 a year in public school dollars.
As a former school committee member, I know that the lack of adequate vocational training is not uncommon in our country's high schools. So what happens to the kids not bound for four-year colleges? Especially the students with severe special needs, who perhaps more than anyone need to learn skills for a demanding, intolerant world—a world in which social programs and supports are being cut to the bone. The number of opportunities for guys like Nat is little to none. In my state, as well as many others, if someone like Nat is going to work in the world, he will have to qualify for Medicaid waiver money through the state department of developmental services so that he can obtain a job coach. And then he'll have to...
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