Last Saturday, I was fortunate enough to get to see a presentation by the famous Temple Grandin. For those of you that do not know who she is, here is a link for more information. http://www.templegrandin.com/ She is an amazing woman that is diagnosed with Autism. As we all know, Autism (and FX) are spectrum disorders, meaning that there is a wide range of symptoms. Even though my boys are diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Fragile X Syndrome, they also have a secondary diagnosis of Autism. Therefore, I do like to read about both due to the similarities in presentation. Anyway…..Dr. Grandin travels the world talking to people and educating about what it’s been like to grow up with Autism. She is an esteemed author, as well as a Professor at Colorado State University. Since Saturday, I have taken some time to digest all that I heard, and 2 things really resonate with me.
One of her biggest philosophies is that many kids with spectrum disorders “live under their disability”…meaning that they let their label guide them. She used the example of the fact that she suffers from sciatica problems, but does not go around introducing herself by saying, “Hi, I’m Temple Grandin and I AM sciatica!” She is a huge advocate for allowing all people to blossom, with supports, into whatever their gifts allow. She (and I) believe that every child or young adult, or adult, have a glimmer of talent….it’s just a matter of having someone near that believes in, and has the ability to, help them grow it into a job. She wants all people with disabilities to have a purpose and a job to do. She talked a bit about the fact that she had a real problem with job interviews, but she was success at bringing forth the products she had created and let those sell themselves. Even though she admittedly suffers from some social anxiety, she is able to overcome that by talking about her work and her creations. The idea that a small spark can become a wildfire intrigues me!
She repeated several times the fact that many young adults that she has met mostly spend their days playing video games or time on the computer. This can be productive, but not without guidance. She encourages people that have a love of computers to take an online course and direct their interest into something employable, like programming, design or engineering. I loved the idea that even a crumb could grow into a mountain. She says, "The worst thing we can do is NOTHING." I would agree.
My 2 young men (although they will always be "my boys"), were not so direct in their pursuit of a job. My husband and I had to really be the driver when it came to their employment. But, we were able to recognize that they each had things that they were good at, and build on those. This continues to be a work in progress, but so far, we are mighty proud.
Secondly, I was so encouraged that the entire sold-out group that attended this Saturday consisted largely of retired educators. She specifically gave them a challenge to help mentor young people in their community. She stated that, “If you live in an area where there are no specialists, take a chance and have retired teacher or educator from your community help you. They are great at English, Math, Reading and teaching anything from social skills to fine motor tasks.” I loved this. There are so many people all around us that have a gift to share with our children. I call them the Angels around us. You might find them in your church, your local recreation center or your grocery store. Education doesn’t have to be formal to be worthwhile.
I remember when we hired a new mentor or job coach for Joe. Being familiar with the person is so important for him, and forunately, we knew this. "The new guy" came to the house while we were home for 9 solid months before we put them in the workplace together. They would "hang out" or watch a movie or take a walk--nothing complicated, but just enough to allow a bond to form. Knowing that the bond would be the most important, also clearly made it the first step. That bond has been key to Joe's success in the workplace now for almost 3 years.
Even though I often feel like I have met my goals with my 2 boys, it is these times that remind me that there is always work to be done. There is more I can offer. There is so much more that they have to offer. I just need to focus and help them to show me the way. I look forward to every opportunity and every success.