I don't know how it happened but Alex is almost 18. She is no longer the sweet and sensitive daughter I used to have. She is a full blown teenager with all the mood swings and dreams of every other teenager I know, including both her siblings.
When a child with an IEP reaches 18 they are invited to participate in the public school district's Transition program. This could be located at the local high school or a centralized school in the district. In theory these transition programs should provide the services that were provided in high school as well as job coaching and other adult related living skills.
I was also told that although Alex may have met the academic requirements for graduation from high school, we should request a "social" diploma or she will not be eligible for the Transition program. Pure semantics to me, but I have larger battles to fight. A social diploma it will be in June, 2012
Our local program is called Ready for the World, but I am not sure Ready for the World is ready for Alex. It is a new program, previous to this the students over 18 stayed in the High School and worked with the other students on IEP goals. Job coaching as well as living skills were at a minimum, and I know some parents thought it was a waste of time.
I applaud our school district (did I really say that?) in their attempt to create this program and I do believe it has improved since it first year and will improve every year. When Alex gets her social diploma from high school the RFTW program will be in its fourth year, so I am hesitant to commit. Alex is getting very subtle comments from her teachers about the program and her expectation is she will attend. I on the other hand do not have those expectations unless I believe it will benefit Alex, so we are currently undecided. Alex has told me she would like to go to college, so although I am dragging my feet at yet another research project, I will look into it.
To make this long story short, I realized last December that most 17 year olds had jobs, so why shouldn't Alex? Alex likes kids, and more importantly young kids do not see Alex as different. In their eyes she is a teenager and "cool". They listen to her and often follow her around. She is like the pied piper of down syndrome. Alex also likes crafts, and she is very organized and tidy. Why shouldn't Alex work in a preschool or child care facility?
To that end, I walked into the childcare facility at Snowmass Mountain Resort (Treehouse) in mid-December and asked to speak with the person in charge. This lovely woman had no hesitation about offering Alex an "internship" during the winter break. She did her homework however, and called Alex's teacher to ask questions, almost like a job reference. Once assured Alex would be an excellent internee, we worked out a schedule of three days a week, three hours a day. All told Alex worked six days.
Each work day Alex woke up by herself, dressed nicely and kept me on track so she would not be late for work. Each work day when I picked Alex up she was smiling, happy and proud. She recounted stories of the kids (she had 18 months – 3) and mentioned the ones she helped to stop cry. There was always a particular child who would attach themself to Alex, and I heard a new name each day.
Alex has been asked to work at the Treehouse during her spring break as well as summer vacation. However, I need to figure out how I can turn this internship into a paying job. I had told Alex it was a job, which to her meant getting paid, and cost me $60. At this rate I will be even broker than I am today!
Yes, Alex is getting older and with that comes many life choices for young adults with disabilities. There could be more education, perhaps a college program, jobs, living situations (NOT in my house) relationships, social activities, and the list goes on.
Am I really ready for this? I often doubt myself and my personal fortitude that is necessary to help Alex succeed, but we have gotten this far, why stop now? Oh how did this happen so fast!