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The efforts toward independence continue. My two older adult children have completed college. My son graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business and IT. My daughter graduated from a local business college with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. We thought that if they got a degree that they would at least have a chance to get in the door of a business and prove themselves.

So far, their degrees, experience, and well written resumes have succeeded in getting them many interviews. However, there have been no job offers. It is probably a combination of the poor economy, a surplus of qualified applicants with ample experience, and, perhaps, the autism.They can’t get past the interviews. My son has been looking for work since May and my daughter has been looking for work for a year and a half.

I keep thinking that if those employers had any idea how hard working and focused my kids are, they would hire them. If they would just give them a chance, my son and daughter would prove themselves.

My son has had an internship with a web design company, and two Goodwill jobs. He worked at Grand Valley (sponsored and paid by Goodwill) in IT support. He maintained, and updated computers. His supervisors said that he was a very hard worker. Then this fall and winter, he worked at a Goodwill warehouse as a temporary, replacing an injured worker. He worked harder and followed directions better than the guy he replaced. His supervisors loved him and wanted to keep him. His job ended a week ago after 12 weeks.

He was hoping they would hire him permanently.

But that is not the mission statement of Goodwill Industries. This is:

“Goodwill Industries International enhances the dignity and quality of life of individuals, families and communities by eliminating barriers to opportunity and helping people in need reach their fullest potential through the power of work.”

On Monday, my son is going to start training for a factory job on the south east side near the airport. Goodwill is going to pay the first two weeks of his wages so that this company will give my son a chance to prove himself. To prove that he is a hard worker and a thinker. Maybe it is not the job that he went to college for, but many people work in jobs that they did not train for. Perhaps he will have an opportunity to add value to his employer by using his computer skills. I tell my kids all the time (till they are tired of hearing, I am sure), that I went to school to be a legal secretary, and the only work I could find was three  days a week as a closed file clerk. In seven years, little by little, I proved what I could do, and now I am the administrative assistant for the small, but growing, Medicare Set-Aside portion of the firm’s business. Next week, I will be training a part-time worker to be my assistant. I hope this job works out for him. Factory work may not be the best thing for him because he still has some coordination difficulties, but there may be a job he can do for the company. Factory work may not be what he went to school for, but the student loans need to be paid. He wants to work.

My older daughter has worked for two Goodwill jobs, one at Grand Valley for 12 weeks (in the finance office), and one with Goodwill this summer in one of their work programs in the office. She has been looking for work for a year and a half.

She has had more difficulty finding work in her field due in large part to her autism and comorbid disabilities. During interviews, potential employers are met with a confusing presentation; it doesn’t correlate with the resume. Goodwill meets with her more frequently for interview practice. And an autism/asperger specialist meets with her once a week to help her with language and communication skills (I am not sure how to describe this help – it has something to do with non-verbal communication, as well). She also cannot drive due to attention difficulties and visual coordination. Mary Free Bed told us that these may improve over time, and she may be able to try again and be trained through their driver’s rehabilitation program (a state requirement for her).

When she was in high school, her autism teacher felt that with her strength in mathematics, she might do well in the computerized accounting program at the high school training program at the Kent County ISD. She was wildly successful. She completed the two-year program in one year with A’s. When other students socialized, she kept working. (But socialization is a job skill, too – and significant deficits in social skills is one of the hallmarks of autism). Building on that success, she went on to complete an Associate’s degree in accounting at the community college, and then a Bachelor’s degree at Davenport University. (Davenport has been a rich source for interviews – their job placement department is excellent.)

She has significant barriers to employment. Her deficits social skills remain significant. After five years of college, her spelling skills have gone from atrocious to poor. At least now, we recognize the misspelled words. She has decent skills in accounting, can type 40 words a minute, and can copy words well. Her spelling when composing or transcribing is very poor.

We encouraged her to study accounting at the college level because that was her strength. Our underlying motivation was that we didn’t want her to be doing unskilled labor because of her difficulties with coordination, strength, and mild balance issues. We, frankly, did not want to her clean tables for a living. Now we wonder if we should reset our expectations and that might be enough for her. After all, her goals are not necessarily our goals. If she gets any job, she may have the opportunity to help with an accounting function in that job…or show her employer her computer skills (she has shown me a thing or two, and I work with Word Office 40 hours a week). Currently, she is volunteering at Mel Trotter a couple of days a week in their accounting department doing donation data entry. She told me a few weeks ago that she entered 1,000 donations in about three hours. She is excited to do work that she knows how to do.

Work is an important function in our lives. My husband and I both work in fields that we did not train for in college. He works in a warehouse and I work as a legal secretary. His college degree is in Pastoral Studies/Bible; mine are in English/Linguistics (BA) and much later, Legal Office Administration (This was in my opinion occupational training, and I do work in that field now).

Our goal is to get our ships (my children) launched out of the harbor. My husband is 60 and I am 53. We have both had minor health problems this year that made us think about the importance of helping our kids be independent.

Both my son and my daughter are clients of the State Rehabilitation Services, a state agency that helps people with disabilities find work. Goodwill is the contractor for my son and daughter. Hope Network is another contractor in the area.

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