Apr 14, 2014 1 Share

What Next?

Illustration of man choosing between three doors.

If you’ve ever read a column I’ve written before, you probably know that I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out where my son will go and what he will do after he graduates from high school this June. Figuring this out with Cameron has been my full time occupation … my life’s work … for at least the past 18 months. One lesson I’ve learned over and over again is that it’s not enough to just have a Plan B. I’ll probably be on Plan X.2.b by the time all is said and done.

Cameron has applied to three postsecondary programs, each of which is based on a college campus at least 200 miles away from home. The “away from home” part is a key component to what we’ve been looking for. It’s crucial that Cameron learn how to navigate the world without me stepping in and inadvertently bailing him out at the first sign of struggle. I take pride in the fact that I’ve made a conscious effort to not overprotect Cameron, and give him the freedom he needs, but sometimes a mom’s gotta be a mom, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Not having constant access to my well-intentioned help will be a big step towards Cameron’s independence.   

The first program Cameron applied to was my favorite. It was by far the least expensive, in the same city as Cameron’s father so he would have local support, and the program was fully integrated with the university’s campus. Students in the program audited credit classes and lived in the dorm alongside non-program students. Not surprisingly, there were far more applicants than spots available, and Cameron was not offered a spot. If I’m honest, the program probably didn’t offer enough support for Cameron, so in hindsight, this was not the best fit for him.

The second program he applied to was established more than 30 years ago and is on a small university campus. The cost is more than twice that of the first program. The students are integrated with the main campus, but not to the full extent of the first program. So it’s more supportive, but with access to the general population on campus. I liked the urban setting and the ease of nearby public transportation. It seemed like a place that Cameron would easily adapt to. Unfortunately, Cameron’s achievement scores were deemed too high, and it was suggested that he would not be appropriately challenged by the program.

The third program is very similar to the second program. The major difference is the setting. It’s on a campus, but the only permanent inhabitants of the campus are the program participants. And the campus is in a secluded suburban setting. It reminds me of a boarding school version of Cameron’s current school. This lack of inclusive setting was a big concern of mine. But guess what? That concern quickly faded when I realized this was the only bird in the hand we had.

So now we begin the process of figuring out how we pay for this program. Almost since the beginning of the search, I’ve been communicating with the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) here in DC. Postsecondary education is something that Cameron qualifies for based on his classification within the agency. I’ve been in contact with Camron’s representative and she has given me guidance on which programs are established vendors, simplifying the funding process. (Programs Two and Three are established vendors. Program One is not.) When Cameron got the acceptance letter into Program Three, I thought funding approval would just be administrative formalities. But instead I have been informed that the program of choice is now a fourth program, whose application deadline was in January. Program Two and Three are no longer covered as before. There would be a little bit of money from RSA, but more than half of the really expensive tuition would now be up to us.

So now I’m left asking myself, “Is it worth it?” Can I justify spending the kind of money that will be required for this three-year program? The same amount of money would buy Cameron a nice condo somewhere. That may sound tongue in cheek, but it’s really not. Cameron’s needs for support will extend beyond the three-year-period of the program that has offered him a spot. Upon completion of this program, it would probably be considered very fortunate if Cameron had a full-time minimum wage job. Would Cameron be better off if we used the money for a three-year postsecondary program to support him for longer than three years? And if we do decide to skip the postsecondary program, what exactly will Cameron be doing come fall? Like I said, my life’s work is figuring out what’s next for Cameron. Just when I thought the job was done, it begins anew.

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Anonymous (not verified)

What is Program Four?

What is the new program of choice, the mysterious Program Four? Is it something that would suit your son? Is there guaranteed funding for it?If yes, it might be worth Cameron taking a "gap year"  -- getting a part time job and living at home, maybe moving in with his dad and getting a part-time job there (so he'll still have parental support), picking up a volunteering gig or joining Job Corps (as it provides supported housing and internship/job training opportunities) -- and starting Program Four in 2015.What, specifically, are you hoping Cameron will get out of a residential post-secondary program? Why spend so much money on a program that won't give him any academic credentials nor him for more than a minimum wage job? It's probably a very, very good idea to keep some of that "nest egg" in reserve in case your son needs it later (for a condo, for services not covered by insurance, etc).I'm, admittedly, not familiar with residential post-secondary programs for individuals with disabilities that involves taking college classes NOT for credit. Particularly as colleges are generally VERY welcoming to kids with autism, who have the potential to do just fine witout much support.(I may have a warped perspective here, as both my parents are physics professors and I grew up as a faculty kid.  They're not on the spectrum, but well over half their grad students/post-docs seem to be... as would half the physics & materials science faculty, had they been born 20-50 years earlier. Heck, when I was a geophysics grad student -- at a different school -- my advisor's lab had to be moved across campus in the wake of what acme to be known as the Great Snowball Earth Argument of 1998, i.e. so that he and "Dr. X" did not come to blows if they crossed paths in the hallways. Nobody batted an eyelash, as this sort of thing happened every few years. I'm pretty sure no place on earth is more welcoming/forgiving to folks on the spectrum than a research university).