When I learned that my son Ryan was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, many things changed. I now had a better understanding of some of the behaviors that he had exhibited prior to the diagnosis. He enjoyed opening and shutting doors, whether it was the microwave, refrigerator or his closet. He would be content to do so unless interrupted. Rather than the traditional schedule for a two year old, Ryan began an intense Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program during the day, evenings and weekends. We knew that he would make the most progress if he was working on the same skills every waking hour. We set language, cognitive and social goals for him and always kept the bar high and encouraged him. However, I knew the dream I had for him to continue the Barber family tradition and attend Notre Dame was no longer possible.
Today, sixteen years later, he is now training with our Transitional Work Service Program at the Barber National Institute. He is very interested in landscaping and maintenance and plans to focus in these areas. He has a strong work ethic and is already planning to get a job at the Erie County Courthouse, Police Barracks, St. Patrick’s Church and the Quinn Law Offices. He has goals. As Ryan works towards his long term vocational goals, I am reminded of how important it was that we started this transition planning when he was 13.
Through my experience both personally and professionally, I strongly encourage you to keep transition in the forefront of your child’s education. It’s never too early to consider and begin establishing IEP goals. A functional curriculum is essential for all ages. It is at the age of 13 that IEP teams need to be considering employment, post secondary education, and community living. You may be thinking that your child will not graduate until he or she is 18 or 21, so why the rush? You need all of those years to adequately prepare for what happens after graduation and secure funding. Too often, I talk with parents who expected programs for their young adult to materialize and are now dismayed that nothing is available. Resources are available through your child’s teacher, transitional coordinator for your school, and via Autism Speaks.
When I asked Ryan how was his first day, he replied, “My first day was exciting, and I’m earning my list of job sites.” (Erie Courthouse, Police Barracks, etc.).
The initial dream of attending Notre Dame will not happen, but it has been replaced by new dreams that are now coming true. I look forward to keeping you updated on his progress. I am so proud of Ryan and his many, many accomplishments!