Ian semi-graduated from high school last May. He finished all the academic requirements for graduation. By his last year, he was only in one special education class, though an aide accompanied him to all his classes – a mix of academic and technical electives – to help him understand verbal directions and to make sure that Ian was appropriate. Ian was on the highest honor roll, though I suspect that many of those A’s weren’t entirely deserved. That said, he had checked all the boxes to graduate from high school. However, I didn’t let him officially graduate.
Schools are required to educate students with IEPs until 21. Do all students with IEPs get this extra few years of free public school or is this mandate aimed at students with intellectual disabilities and larger issues? It’s sort of a grey area. Our district didn’t want to educate Ian for another two years and forced us to get a fancy report to show that despite Ian’s intellectual abilities, he did not have the ability to get a job or to attend college classes due to poor social skills and functional living abilities. Ian wasn’t ready to move on. I knew it. And now I had a report that made the district support him for another couple of years.
In the past six month, I’ve toured programs or interviewed administrators at dozens of Transition Programs, both public and private. I’ve learned a lot from these conversations, on top of Ian’s daily experiences at the local Transition Program, also known as an 18-21 program. Some of those programs focus on job internships and vocational skills. Others prepare students for life on a college campus. Life skills are a big part of all those programs.
What are life skills? It’s everything a person needs to function independently in a community: take busses, read maps, shop for food, plan menus, cook meals, make social plans on weekends, pay bills, organize a day, utilize community services, make beds, vacuum rugs, do laundry, and so on. Now, a person can be really smart, but still not know how to do all those things. They might need strategies for do all those things in an organized way.
Now, nobody taught me how to plan a menu or make a pot of chili. My mother didn’t teach me how to do laundry before I went to college; she just sent me off with a box of detergent and some quarters. I just figured it out.
Some kids can’t figure out things on their own, particularly autistic kids, like Ian. They need strategies. They need to be taught organization systems for doing those tasks, or they will live in filth and not pay their bills and eat crackers.
Jonah’s life skills are pretty much on par with other 22-year old dudes, which are fairly low level. Other life skills got weaker during covid, and he developed bad habits (watching Zoom lectures, while reclined in bed), so we decided that while he is mostly functional, he needs a tune up. He could function in all areas of his life better if he was more structured, clean, and efficient. So, Steve and I are now running a life skills boot camp for both boys, including Jonah, who is home with remote college.
Because I’m home full time — sometimes working, sometimes dealing with family crises — I do everything from making ridiculous meals to keeping the living room free from clutter. We have a cleaning lady who comes here every other week to clean the shower and degrease the stove. Monica, my adorable Polish cleaning lady, and I are enabling everyone’s helplessness. That must stop.
As part of the new regime, I’ll cook Monday through Thursday, but the dudes need to take care of the other days. We’re starting off really easy, like frozen food in the air fryer and burgers in a pan. We’re going to eat crap food for a while, but I’ll get over it. Ian has to learn how to do laundry. Jonah needs to learn to do all his chores on Saturdays, and not drag them out all week. Ian needs a drivers license, even if he never actually drives, because of the epilepsy. Jonah has to create a weekly calendar, instead of just winging it. They both need to schedule exercise on the weekly calendar. And so on.
Are they happy about all this? Hell no. They both want to be independent, but have all the boring stuff in life just magically done on its own. (I suppose we all want that.) I’m not super happy about having to run this boot camp. It’s more work for me to teach them how to cook, than to just do it myself. But the baby birds need to get kicked out the nest soon, and they’re not ready to fly.
PICTURE: Steve making Christmas Dinner, when I was sick with Covid. Jonah needs to put down his cellphone and help.