Right around this time, I went to a local disability resource fair. There I ran into a friend who operated a day program for people with developmental disabilities. He gave me some advice: “Do whatever you can to make sure Ian comes out of school with a job. Whatever you can.” I have never forgotten that.
So, Ian gets all these job opportunities, but he can’t stay at any of them. Yet he needs to have a job when he gets out of school. Ugh. So when the checker asked Ian if he wanted to work there, I was determined to make it happen.
Never Be Afraid to Ask for What You Want
As soon as I could go to the store without Ian, I introduced myself to the store manager. This is the store that Ian has gone to his entire life, so many of the people in the store have watched Ian grow up, and they know our family. I asked the manager, “If Ian has a job coach, could he start with a two-hour shift?”
“I think we can make that work,” he replied. (Yyyess! I thought.) I also asked if he could work the same schedule every day, to which he agreed, and continues to this day. As you can imagine, this is huge for our adult children.
Ian works in four hour shifts. I found that is definitely long enough.
Building a Transition Program Just for Ian
In our school district’s transition program, the students typically go to a different school and continue the different “job opportunities.” It’s a three-year program that takes the students up to age 21.
I had a different plan.
I called a meeting and proposed a transition program just for Ian. I told them this plan would save the district money. The job coach he would have had with the transition program would be used at an actual job instead.
Ian’s personal transition program included:
- Continue to attend his home school in the morning.
- Continue his first period reading class.
- Continue his second period adaptive PE class.
- Learn to take the bus to work, using a coach.
- Work for two hours a day at first, then gradually work up to a four-hour shift — also using a coach, but phasing out over time.
- Take the bus back to the high school.
- Continue to help the football team after school.
Once Ian aged out of school services (at 21), he would continue working, but he would discontinue all the school aspects. The work times were set up to stay the same when he left school.
I thought this would be perfect for Ian. The school did too.
With a few tweaks and a little time, it worked well. I was thrilled with how things worked out. Ian learned to ride the bus and he started learning skills at the grocery store. Over time, he was also working full four-hour shifts.
Summer came and the district told us Ian would no longer have a job coach. I checked with the grocery store, and they were fine with Ian working on his own. By this time, Ian had a good relationship with many of the checkers and the other “courtesy clerks,” or baggers. This is when I truly began to understand and appreciate natural supports. Some of the checkers worked really well with Ian — they didn’t mind the prompts to stay on task, and I was impressed with the way that all the baggers, most of whom have a disability, looked out for and supported one another.
However, one day I dropped Ian off and one of the head clerks walked up to me. I got the dreaded, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
The day before, Ian had put bread at the bottom of a bag, and a customer complained. On the spot, I told the clerk the key was to make it simple.
After observing Ian for a few minutes, I went back to the head clerk and said, “Fragile items to the side, bag everything else, fragile items last.” They showed Ian what fragile items were, modeled what they wanted done (using what came to be a mantra), and with a few adjustments now and then, he was off. Did it still happen? Yes, but only every now and then.
Adding New Responsibilities
One day the head clerk said we might have to switch Ian’s work times because he needed someone to gather carts during the same time that Ian was working. I responded, “If I bring in a job coach to teach that, could he keep the same times?”
So the debate began.
Is Ian safe enough to bring in the carts? How will we teach him? Is this a smart thing to do? There are cars coming and going, and backing up.
We watched a couple of other baggers bring in the carts, gave Ian the brightest orange vest we could find, and let him go.
The good thing about bringing in carts is that there is not really a right or a wrong way to do it. While they taught it in a systematic way, the reality is that there are not always carts to be brought in. I quickly learned bringing in carts is perfect for someone who has a short attention span and is easily distracted.
Ian’s new work schedule was to gather carts for an hour, bag for an hour, gather carts for an hour, and bag for an hour. Within two shifts, the head clerk told me, “He’s doing way better at bagging now.” I started thinking: gross motor, fine motor, gross motor, and fine motor. Works great. We didn’t even plan this one.