Susan's Blog

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Beyond Day Program/DayHab: Community College

Can someone like Nat go to college?

How do I figure this out? What does a child’s progress depend on? Does the level of optimism in a parent have a large effect on how far the child goes in development, in fulfilling his potential, his telos? I’m optimistic, right?

But what do I think deep down? No, that’s too hard. That’s too big a fight. You can’t have everything. You have to accept what is. How many conversations have I had with people lately where the phrase, “If it is meant to be…” and “All things happen for a reason.”  I don’t think people in general examine those statements they make; they are using those statements to explain something that happened that they don’t understand yet, or that maybe they don’t even like.

People in general need to have explanations for what they do and experience. Is a child with a disability born to you for a reason, to teach you (and him) about life?

Or is life random and unfair and it is what you make of it? Others believe that disability is random, that it happens. There is nothing to learn from it. But I think that most of us want to find meaning, our own meaning, from difficult occurrences, and so we reflect on what disability has taught us.

Getting back to optimism and pessimism, if you believe that things happen for a reason, that things unfold to their most meaningful point, are you at heart an optimist? Or is a person who fights what is happening to them the optimist? Is the parent who tries to cure, to wipe out the autism, an optimist, because he believes that this autism was a mistake, this was an accident, a tragedy, and we should do everything we can to fight it, because we will eventually succeed in flattening out the autism.  Or is this cure-it parent a pessimist, because they only see the negative in what happened to their child?

Is it more optimistic to be able to accept what is and do the best you can, believing that there is good in life and we just have to recognize it in its many forms?

I admit that I am not always optimistic. I can’t believe that all this time I had just dismissed the idea of college for Nat, just because I didn’t know that programs existed for him. Around here, there are some programs, but they seem to be built around verbal competence. So I gave up. I drew a line around Nat’s ability and decided his trajectory.

Recently I found out about CCCAID, Community College Consortium for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities, talked at length with their staff and colleagues, and took a look at their website. Their statement of purpose is as follows:

The Community College Consortium on Autism and Intellectual Disabilities (CCCAID) was formed in 2007 to facilitate advocacy and support for programs at Community Colleges to serve students with autism and intellectual disabilities. Issues for young people as they “age out” of school systems include education, housing, life skills, vocational pathways, personal safety and medical care. The Consortium provides assistance to Community Colleges for program development and implementation and information on the availability of resources for sustainability of programs.

I’m not sure yet if there are places out there that would actually take in a guy like Nat, but I am now thinking, “Hey, why not?” If public schools are required to educate Nat, and they train teachers to do this effectively, then can’t colleges have people on their faculty who can offer continuing education, adapted curricula, and also the real life skills Nat would need to survive in the world?  Remember, I’m talking about people with Nat’s degree of issues. I don’t know, but I do know that certain community colleges, like Taft in Bakersfield, have over ten years’ track record in training people with mild to moderate autism in this manner.

Nat is not “mild-to-moderate,” he is closer to “severe,” and I do wonder what might be out there for him. One woman I spoke to, who works for a community college in the midwest (I forgot where!) told me that as long as a student could let a staff person know that they didn’t feel safe, they could go to the program! “Safety is really the bottom line,” she said, “You have to know how to be safe, or if something doesn’t feel safe.” (something like that). When she said that, I thought, Hey, Nat is almost there, then!  And I had one of those old soul-lifting moments, hope wrenching my insides upward. Could he…? Breathless near-tears moment in the middle of our conversation.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m thrilled he can work at CVS and also volunteer in the community. But if I were to think about Nat’s fullest potential, especially given his recent post-graduate personal growth — shouldn’t I then be dreaming and plotting to get him into a college program, to continue his highest trajectory?  Could he…?

Why not?


First question is “why go to University??” What do you hope to achieve? What is he to learn there?

This doesn’t just apply to the disabled but there are thousands of adults graduating from Univ with a useless piece of paper and jobs by the thousands available had they gone into trades etc. But for some reason we think everyone needs to go to Univ.

I mentioned to my eldest that he needs to head straight to the Navy after highschool. Math, cartography (his brain has a built in GPS), you know what to wear, what to say, work in teams not cubicles or on a line…. No loans, a job, training, and if you wish you can go to school at the same time or afterwards. He’s only 12 (Gr 7) but he’s starting to think about it. He can join Sea Scouts at 14 and he’s planning to.

It’s not “can” he, but “should” he. What interests him and can he get that skill volunteering and working??

— added by farmwifetwo on Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm

You never know unless you try. Also there are terrific accommodations that can be made for people with disabilities. The rick is to talk to the disability office before hand and help set everything up the way it should be. Also there is no law that says Nat can’t take one class at a time until he receives the degree or certificate that he wants. That in fact is what community college is all about. Also the degree programs at community college are quite varied, everything from computer technology to repair to medical stenographer to court stenographer to vet tech, to cook, etc. It is amazing the choices out there. I bet he could find something to his liking.

Also if you think Nat may need extra classroom support especially in the beginning, talk to them about that possibility. Unfortunately you would have to provide the person, including paying for it, but this is the new territory for those with disabilities. The college where my boys go, allow me to send them with someone to help with their anxiety and social issues. The para also helps organize the younger one, the oldest ones is fine with that now, and helps them advocate with the professors and socialize with the other students too.

Absolutely let him try. I am not saying it will necessarily be easy at first, no new skills happens to be, but truly I bet he can do more with himself than stock shelves at CVS even if it takes ten years.

— added by Elise Ronan (@RaisingASDKids) on Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm

I guess my first question would be, does he want further schooling? I think Charlie will be thrilled when the hard days of school are behind him. He comes home emotionally done in and never really wants to go to school. But that’s just our current challenge.

— added by Jan Bowser on Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

I teach at community college. I think it is totally possible to offer further and higher education to everyone who wants it. The real struggle is getting enough faculty to be interested and available- and able. Most community colleges now are mostly taught by adjuncts, and there is little incentive to adjuncts to take on teaching challenges or put any more time than they have to into a course- they are paid minimally as it is. Also, you have to get people to understand there are many, many different ways to deliver education, and also make it inclusive and accessible.

— added by Joeymom on Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Does he want to go to college or is it something that you feel a guy his age should do?

— added by Jill on Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 9:52 am

It’s not that Nat wants to go to college or doesn’t. In writing this post I was raising an issue on a broader level: that perhaps parents like me can dream of this, too.

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 12:48 pm

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