Vocational Rehabilitation is a federal-state program that helps people with differences/disabilities overcome barriers to employment, gain work skills, find jobs, and build careers.
Our local Voc Rehab office recently started a program called “Linking Learning to Careers,” which works with differently abled high schoolers to develop job skills and connect school work with work-work.
When G was filling out his application, he had to answer some questions about his skills and future plans.
One question was “What strengths do you bring to school, work, and your future career?”
G wrote, “I am very friendly.”
Figure I — “I am very friendly.”
My heart sank a little. “Honey, that’s not…” — I looked at his little [huge baby man] face — “Never mind.”
I almost began to spiral on that one, but I didn’t say anything. I want him to feel confident and value his own strengths, even if they might be seen as somewhat irrelevant by his mom — or completely useless by a future employer.
G and I had been participating in fundraising efforts for a school trip he wants to go on; and I’d been working on a calendar raffle handout that the kids could use to sell tickets. The day after G completed the Linking Learning to Careers application, I finished the calendar handout and students began to sell raffle tickets.
That very day, G went out and sold all of his raffle tickets within an hour.
In the end, he exponentially outsold every other student in the group.
Figure II — Friendliness + Initiative = Success
Here’s how he explained it to me: “Mom, I’m on the spectrum, so I don’t know when to stop. I just keep asking!”
A few days later, G and the other runners received their participation awards at the end-of-season track banquet. The coach spoke a bit about each student. When it came to G, he said, “When we go to meets, [G] knows more people than the entire team combined.”
There you go, I thought, there are those skills of friendliness he brings to school, work, and his future career…
G really, really wanted to go on that trip — and he made it happen. Heck, he wanted friends — and now he is friendly with hundreds of people.
Sure, there are things I wish he would make an effort with that he doesn’t yet grasp the importance of, but when it really came down to it, G’s motivation and initiative helped him use his skill of friendliness to be truly successful.
I hope that will continue to be true as he builds independence.
Our children (and selves!) with differences have amazing, sometimes-hidden or non-obvious gifts. These gifts become operationalizable — and that’s just sociologist-talk for making dreams come true — when fueled by real needs and wants.
This experience showed me we can all achieve success if both the success itself and the means of achieving it are meaningful to us and allow us to implement our unique skills.
That might sound kind of basic, but it was a revelation to me.
And it’s changed the questions I’m asking G as he moves out into the world.
Instead of trying to ask questions that instill a “realistic” worldview and attitude — such as “Do you realize people how many hours you would have to work to buy those Magic the Gathering cards?” — I’m wondering:
What are you passionate about?
What do you truly want?
What do you need for health and happiness?
What unique skills do you bring to the table?
How can you connect all of these to live your best life?
But honestly? I think G was way ahead of me on this. I was basing my approach on fear; while he bases his on hope.
Full Spectrum Mama
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