A Mother’s thoughts on A Daughter’s Employment Journey
My name is Dianne and I am the mother of a wonderful 24 year-old named Alexa. We always had high expectations for Alexa’s employment future, but there were many challenges to navigate. I would like to share Alexa’s story of employment with other parents.
Alexa was fully included in her public school until the age of 22 and I believe that helped positively shape the person she is today. She learned so many skills by having classmates as great role models who helped in motivating her to do more! Our family always had high expectations of Alexa and the expectation that the school would share our vision for Alexa’s future. I worked closely with the school and our community to ensure that Alexa would have her needs addressed and would be given the appropriate support. Part of the preparation was asking the school to create jobs within the school so Alexa could practice employment skills. Adding goals to the IEP helps to ensure that building work skills is addressed. My advice would be to strongly communicate your vision for your family member’s future to the school and service providers.
Alexa was expected to do chores, just like her sisters, but she did require supports or modifications so she could complete tasks. If it was taking out the trash than I would help by going outside and grabbing one end of the trash barrel or if she was asked to make her bed, it didn’t need to be perfect, but we wanted to see an attempt at doing it and then I would go in and assist her if needed. Once she mastered a chore, we would move on to the next one. It was important that her siblings have high expectations of her as well and know that she can do everything that they are doing so they would push her to do more. The home is the perfect place for youth to start building work skills.
Community Connections and Personal Networks
Being a part of our community is very important to us. We wanted to be sure that neighbors, store owners and community centers knew all our kids but especially Alexa. The Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester was a place that allowed Alexa to develop many of the skills that she has today. The club supported Alexa while she was a member, and it gave her a place to go to see friends and participate in many activities. Eventually, after many years of participation at the club I asked if they would be willing to give Alexa a summer job as a teacher’s aide. This wasn’t Alexa’s first job. When Alexa was 15 years old there was an opportunity to do an internship at City Hall in Boston. A friend of mine worked there and I reached out to her to see if she was willing to give Alexa an opportunity. It was scary for Alexa because this would be her first time in a place where she didn’t know anyone and had to navigate a large office and building. Prior to her starting, I brought her to City Hall a few times, met the employees that she would be
working with, gave her a tour of City Hall and she was able to ask questions and get comfortable. Families have many contacts they can use to help find good work experiences.
Explore Higher Education
When Alexa was 19 years old, her younger sister was getting ready to leave for college and Alexa wanted to go with her – this can be a difficult conversation to have with a loved one. In Massachusetts there is the MA Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative where students with disabilities can audit college courses, on a college campus, while still enrolled in their high school. During Alexa’s IEP meeting we asked that Alexa attend one course that semester at a local community college. Alexa required additional safety goals and travel goals and those were added to the IEP. She was also able to access a program called “You’re with Us” which allowed her to audit a class at Northeastern University with members from NU Field Hockey team who mentored her while she was still in high school. These opportunities of attending two different colleges, gave Alexa more confidence in herself. She would say things like “I am just like my sister – she goes to college and I do too”. I believe being included with peers of the same age is incredibly motivating for our loved ones with disabilities and they will continue to achieve more and live up to higher expectations.
It took many years for Alexa to obtain needed skills and supports, but now she has two jobs she enjoys. It was not always easy and there were MANY bumps along the way! We work closely with the job coach when different issues come up at work, but Alexa is getting more comfortable advocating for herself. She is still with the “You’re With Us” program and has two mentors that work with Alexa whom she values greatly. Through it all I can say she is happy, which makes this mom even happier.