Learning to Iron

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”A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.”

~John Shedd

All of a sudden, Will has left the safety of the family harbor. His ship has launched and he has moved into his own apartment in another city seventy miles away. His job is the beginning of his true career. He worked hard for this chance. All the years of therapy, special services, study and encouragement have resulted in this giant step toward independence, despite the giant challenge of autism.

During the interview with a huge corporation, they told him that if he were hired, he would start on April 16. On April 12, his father and I suggested that he probably wasn’t going to get the job. Whew! We had dodged that bullet, we thought. He would not be moving away from home. The very next day, the human resources department contacted him, offering him a position as an entry-level web developer. He would start on April 25. He was excited and nervous.

We were happy for him and dreadfully nervous. But we had stepped boldly forth into the risk that he might move away. We were the ones who encouraged him to go to the interview, and his dad actually drove him seventy miles for the interview, 140 miles round trip.

Anxiety plagued me. Had I prepared him enough? Had I taught him what he needed to know to live on his own, to navigate life outside the harbor? I wouldn’t have many more chances to teach him what he needed to know.

A week after we moved him, his sister Mary and I went to visit him for the weekend and bring another load of his furniture and possessions. I wanted to see how he was doing on his own. His apartment was still very sparsely furnished, with an air mattress in his bedroom and lawn chairs in the living room. He was camping in his own apartment. He would buy real furniture when he could afford it.

I got another chance to teach Will how to grab his dress clothes out of the dryer so that he would not have to iron them. However the clothes didn’t come out of the apartment dryers as wrinkle free as I had hoped. So we went shopping and he bought an ironing board and an iron.

Then we went back to his apartment and took all of his dress clothes out of the closet. I gave him and Mary ironing lessons. At home, my method of grabbing clothes quickly out of the dryer is an effective wrinkle deterrent, so my ironing lessons in the past were half hearted. But this time, both my children paid close attention. Both Will and Mary picked it up quickly. Will told me he has ironed his clothes every week since.

I am shocked that this is so hard. Letting go is harder than I thought it would be, but other parents, parents of typical kids, tell me that they found it difficult as well. When my kids were little, they had separation anxiety. Now I am feeling that anxiety on the other end of parenthood.

My chances to prepare my son for his future are diminishing quickly. He is learning his own lessons, and he is enjoying it for the most part. I love the John Shedd quote: “A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.” I have this saying in the signature line of my e-mails both at home and at work, to remind myself daily that my kids cannot stay in the harbor. In the end, keeping them in the harbor is not safe.

~Ann Kilter

This story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Raising Kids on the Spectrum. This book is an excellent resource for those who want to understand what it is like to raise an autistic child, and for those who are in the fray. This story, the story of Will moving to his first apartment, is the 101st story out of 101 stories.

Will has been living in his own apartment for 2 1/2 years now. He has learned how to grab his clothes out of the dryer so he doesn’t have to iron them. I guess ironing is not that much fun. :)

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Kilter Family Update

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This is the first fall since 1991 that the Kilter family does not have someone starting school. 23 years since school started for our family. And now, it’s over for us.

Mary is in a 15 week training program, but it started in July and will end in a certification test and possible job in a government call center. And Patty will be a teacher’s assistant at the college she graduated from this last spring. But she is not taking classes;she will be grading tests and taking attendance.

But no one is starting a program leading to a degree this year. No one. It feels foreign. Strange. Odd. I feel at loose ends.

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No school buses. Although the only school buses our kids rode were special education buses. We didn’t have to deal with school bus woes.

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No tuition payments. Why am I not more flush with funds? Still recovering I think.

Wow. Just wow. Looks like this update is mostly about the end of one chapter, and the beginning of several others – the kids are going off in their own directions, and we, Ralph and I, have to think about our next chapter.

In other news, Will made it back from Tennessee just fine.

 

 

Flying Again

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Only 500 miles this time. Tennessee. Last night Will told us that he would be flying to Tennessee for a business meeting next week.

Two years ago, he told us that he was going to fly to California for training. For  a Week. Will had never flown on a commercial jet. And he went alone. (http://annkilter.com/2012/08/20/to-california-and-back-again/). That round trip involved six different planes, a train, and a shuttle bus. I found out later that he made all the reservations himself. I have never flown in a jet either, so I was of little help.

It’s been two years since his last flight. This time, i tell myself I’ll worry less. This time, he’ll be more comfortable, having been through it once. This time, there are no layovers. He’ll be renting a car this time. (Maybe that will convince him to get a newer car ;) ). I’ll still be praying. :)

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Hope

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This building looks like hope to me.

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After I dropped Mary off for her class last Wednesday, I sat in my car and watched some of her classmates go in. The rear door of the van near the door popped open, a ramp was lowered by an unseen force, and a motorized wheelchair  appeared, the operator quickly making progress toward the entrance. Another young woman got off the Go Bus, and with her white cane walked to the door. Adults of all ages filed in, some with walkers, some with canes, and some with no visible signs of disability. Although I have always said that no one would know that Mary had a disability until she starts talking.

All of these adults have a substantial, documented disability. All of them also had to pass a series of aptitude tests and an interview to get into the program. All of them had to have an extended period of looking for work with no success. They are taking a course for some sort of computer certification. At the end of the course, they will have to take a certification test. If they pass, they will then interview for work at a help desk for a call center operated by a government contractor.

The government contractor hires people with disabilities. It may be required to do so, and there are probably substantial incentives.

In this state, there are incentives for private employers to give people with disabilities a chance. For a period of time, a substantial portion of their wages is paid by the state. Yet, the unemployment rate for intelligent adults with disabilities is very high. Many times the rate of unemployment for the general population.

They want to work. They want to have purpose, to be independent, to make their own money. So the government has stepped in to provide both training and an opportunity for them.

This week, they will begin building a computer from scratch. I have suggested to Mary that she take one of her old computers, open it up and study the parts in three dimensions. She does the home work. She knows what it takes to pass a class.

This group had to be extra patient, as the teacher who was supposed to teach them left for another job. They had to wait another three months to get in. Some of them won’t make it, but they have hope.

And hope is a precious thing.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -” Emily Dickinsin

I’ve Reconsidered

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In fact, I’ve changed my mind.

When Mary starts her training on Monday, I plan to provide her transportation.  When I told one of the paralegals at my job that I would be changing my work schedule in order to get Mary to her training group on time, she said, “I thought the Kilter college taxi service had closed.”

Well, I’ve been thinking about our insistence that Mary find employment with a location on a bus route. Better for her independence, we said. But after four fruitless years of looking for work that meets that criteria, I have given up on that line of thinking.  If Mary were married, wouldn’t her husband take her to work if he could drive? Don’t other people share transportation to work for members in their family? Young adult or not? Autistic or not? Our goal is for Mary to be as independent as possible. So maybe she needs our help with transportation to get to that point. So what?

The location of this work place is not too far from a bus route, if the bus stops near there. But it would take Mary at least one transfer to get there. Probably about an hour on the bus from our house. There is a transportation service in town for people with disabilities , which costs $10 per trip. When I mentioned this to Mary in the past, she said, “That would be $100 a week.” She didn’t want to consider it. When I asked again, pointing out that $100 a week is what many people pay to own and operate a car (including car payment, insurance, gas, and maintenance), she said, “They have a waiting list.” But even if she has to wait, if she were established in a job, she could find a way to afford it. Maybe Uber, the ride sharing phone application service, could get her a steady ride. Or she could move closer to the job. Maybe we could car pool with another family in the area with similar transportation needs.

Maybe in our stubborn insistence that Mary find a job on the bus line, we have not provided for her. Our intentions were good, I think. Even so, the underlying message regarding independent transportation was important.

When we went out to lunch at the Steak and Shake last spring, Mary told me that since she hadn’t had success in finding work to fit her accounting degree, she was going to try something else. In fact, she had already signed up to begin training for computer certification in order to qualify for work in a different field. She assumed that we would help her get there. And Lord willing, we will.

So, yes, The Kilter family taxi service has opened for business under a new name. But we still have the same mission: eventual independence for our kids.

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