On Tuesday, we had a meeting at Storefront to talk about Jessie’s transition out of school and what she might do next year. While T&N (the teacher and the job coach at Storefront) say that we are ahead of some parents in exploring what the options are, we feel very far behind! It’s all one big mishmash out there of things that don’t quite fit Jessie. However, the one thing we are all agreed on (that’s Dan, Jessie, and I) is that we want her to keep learning and growing the way she has at Storefront. For example, she now wears her watch all day long and actually checks the time; she initiates and has conversations with her peers during lunch instead of always withdrawing to write in her notebook; she is able to sort, categorize, and place items in their proper places (organization and categorizing never her strong suit!); and instead of bursting into tears when faced with criticism or being told that something she had her heart set on is not possible right now (such as landing a role in the Jonas Bros. TV show), she removes herself from the room (to bust into tears—hey, baby steps!).
We don’t want to sign on to a program or make a plan that is just a time-filler—killing time while you are waiting for something more real to happen… like what would that be? But, on the other hand, we would be likely to pick a time killer, something that was half a step backwards (but not a full step backwards) if there was nothing else that would keep her growing and out in the community. Unless, of course, we won the lottery and we could hire someone to do all coaching and finding and networking required. We learned last summer that while I am a great resource person and connector and planner, I am not her best coach, nor her best teacher, and she still needs (and wants) both.
Because the reality is: she is still in the exploration stage, developing skills, honing her interests, finding out what she is good at, and (as well) what she just sucks at! And that’s okay. Actually, that’s more than okay, that’s great! The big question is how to best support that.
Inclusive Post Secondary Options Few and Far, I Mean Really Far
While an inclusive college or university program—such as those in British Columbia or Prince Edward Island—look like perfect fits for what Jessie says she wants, we don’t live there and aren’t really about to move. In addition, Jess is definitely not ready to live in any kind of residence situation, unless fully and appropriately supported, and the only programs like that exist in the U.S. and at exorbitant prices that we can’t afford. And this is where I restrain myself from beating myself up for not having the foresight or energy to create something like that here in Ottawa. (I am giving up self-flagellation for Lent and am preparing myself for the shock by practicing publically on this blog.)
Range of Options in Ottawa
And the range of options for exploration here in Ottawa is rather minimal, which means we will have to get creative. Sigh. But for the first time in a long time we met someone from an organization who has some ideas about getting creative and linking Jessie’s gifts, passions, and gaps to what is out there in the community. HOORAY! Many organizations say they know how to teach reading and writing or basic frontline retail or baking or gardening skills, but have no idea about what to do with someone who wants to be involved in the arts. So we’ve just used them for those skills (and great skills they are) and tried to sort out her great strengths on our own within the arts community.
Y's Owl Maclure
T&N invited Ms. Bright Smile (that’s what I’ll call her for now!) from Y’s Owl Maclure to Jessie’s meeting and she kindled a bit of hope in us for next year. Y’s Owl does have a program (called Follow Up) that provides continuing job coaching for students who leave school with a job (or a volunteer placement). The coaching can be at more than one placement. And while it is really just maintenance support, it means that many students can continue with their work or their work experience placements with a degree of support.
You are probably wondering why this excites me. As I write it, it doesn’t sound like hot $%^%$. But it allows Jessie to continue to volunteer with the Food Bank (a great and positive experience), while being involved in the community and exploring her interests (like taking a course in media studies at the local college, continuing with Propeller dance and pushing her dance by taking other classes, working on a drama certificate with Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, maybe even H’Art studios and voice lessons or a healthy eating class at the local health centre, or [because we never say never] preparing for college or university). The trick will be managing it, and I think we can figure out a way to do that with a little bit of help (hooray for Sophie and the planned PATH coming up in the spring).
Building a Foundation
The other reason it excites me is that Ms. Bright Smile had some ideas about how to hook into the arts community and to develop learning opportunities for Jess. She was also able to look at the big picture (of a life) and see it as a work in progress. Lots of bonus points.
And the final reason for our interest and excitement is that if Jessie is receiving support from them in the Follow Up program and we put her name on the list for their Foundations Program, they will already have a good sense of who she is and it might make it just that much easier for them to create a fit when an opening arises.
The Foundations program is for individuals between 21 and 28 and is “aimed at assisting young adults with developmental disabilities to make a successful transition from school to a wide range of community participation activities and work. . . . Staff work one-on-one with young adults to explore a variety of support and services in their community in order that they may make informed decisions to direct their own future.” The point being, I think, that it is person-centred and based on the individuals gifts, interests, gaps, and goals.
Life, the Universe, and . . . Nothing
Okay. I realize that this post is mostly a list of what we did. But in trying to chronicle these transition years, some days are just days where you list what you did or explored. They, perhaps, will set the context for some other more pithy or moving post that offers insights into life, the universe, and everything (apologies to Douglas Adams). Or they may not. I will end with one word (okay, number). 42.
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