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Employing Nat: Making It All Work

Posted Jan 16 2010 4:17am
Nat's teacher sounded so bubbly yesterday on the phone, the Friday check-in. "It's been such a great week, everyone's been so happy," she said. "Probably because it's a short week and a long weekend!"
I was happy for her because God knows she can use any time off she can get. "So Nat had a good week?" I prompted. "How is work?"
"Well, he earned his soda, so he's definitely doing well with the job coach being faded back."
I, of course, was happy to hear this. I began thinking about how quickly Nat learns things; just a month ago or so they had started having the job coach hidden from Nat's view. His productivity plummeted, without the usual person sitting there as the glue to keep him sticking to his job. But within a few weeks, Nat had figured it out that he was supposed to continue to work anyway, whether or not someone was standing over him (or next to him).

I asked if I could talk to the job coach directly, to get more info about Nat and work. One of my dreams is to work things out so that Nat would always have job support, no matter what. He is so good at working, so quick, so loyal to his job, that he should always be able to work. I have begun to think about ways to generate income that would pay for a job coach for Nat when he is older. Nat's teacher told me that sometimes people share a job coach, as long as they don't need someone to stand over them. To have Nat share a job coach with someone else, or even only to have someone at work who checks in on him -- that would be a piece of Adult Heaven for me, in terms of Nat. Imagine if he could simply arrive at work and go immediately to his task. Work for a couple of hours, have a snack break, and work a few more. Every day. That would be five hours of something worthwhile for him to do, five hours when someone else did not have to arrange activities for him, when he wasn't simply walking a circuit around and around. Because after those five hours, there are still so many and I want that golden soul to be filled up with a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Nat's teacher said, "I'll have him email you, but I also know a little about how this works, because some of my students have gone on to have jobs after they leave." Then her voice cracked and she said, "Oh my God, I can't believe we're talking about Nat graduating, though..." I wished one could give a hug through the phone. Then she went on, telling me how sometimes her students can continue working, because the school has ties to larger corporate chains with many franchises. "The job they have while they're in school stays with the school, unfortunately. But what they do is get the manager at the TJMaxx or the Rite-Aid, or in Nat's case, Papa Gino's, to write a letter of recommendation to a different Papa Gino's near his adult home. "It amounts to a job transfer, rather than hiring someone totally new," she said, matter-of-factly.

And there it was again, that big puff of something inside my heart, my throat, rising up so that I wanted to shout, all because of this completely banal explanation of how, exactly, my very autistic son would have a job. Nat's teacher had given me the gift that all autism parents search for, when they are ready: a piece of the future. For now I could imagine just how it would work, how a few people at his school and at that little pizza store in that little town, would look at Nat's productivity, his needs, his disposition, his letter of recommendation. And just like that, he could be an employed adult.
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