Jun 25, 2012 0 Share

Working for a Living

Illustration of young man pushing mail cart in office.

By the time you read this, my son will have arrived at his first day of work for his first paying job. I am thrilled beyond words. I had hoped this day would come when I made the crosstown trek in rush hour, to wait in line with hundreds of youths in a school gym, as we provided evidence of our residency in the District of Columbia. That was early spring, and I was filled with anticipation, in hopes that Cameron would be able to find a meaningful job placement to take the place of ESY, or summer school. It seemed like such a great plan: Enroll in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), find a placement at a pizza restaurant, and Cameron would have a legitimate work experience earning real money. Only, when the job database opened for participants to apply for openings, nothing seemed like a suitable match for Cameron. At all. SYEP isn’t a program for youths with disabilities, so what was I really expecting?  I chalked it up to another ride on the roller coaster of parenting a child with ASD: The thrill of a plan shaping up followed by the defeat of things not going according to the plan. 

I tried reaching out to the program coordinators for assistance in finding an appropriate placement for Cameron, but my emails went unanswered. I went about planning the family vacation and Cameron's visit with his dad in Atlanta, assuming that paid employment would be awhile coming, and from another source all together. Then one day last week, Cameron showed me an email from the SYEP office. It was a reminder that he needed to attend an orientation session in order to get a job. I decided to make another crosstown trek in rush hour to get Cameron to the orientation, and hopefully find someone to talk to about job possibilities. I did speak with a very helpful program employee, who took my information and promised an email to follow up. Still nothing. But what was becoming clear through this process was that I had misunderstood how the program worked. Participants were encouraged to apply for preferred jobs, but an assignment would be made regardless of whether or not any applications were submitted by the participant. Hmmm … what type of placement would Cameron be assigned? He had not been able to attend the job fair to meet potential employers, and the orientation session he went to was a last chance event, as he had missed a prior session he was scheduled for. And since I had made those vacation plans, how would his employer react to Cameron asking for two weeks off from a six-week program? Really, what was the best I could hope for? Pooper Scooper at the dog park maybe? 

When Cameron's job assignment came, it was clear that someone had been listening. Cameron is working in the mailroom at the Department of Disability Services. His supervisor of record is a Transition Specialist with the Rehabilitative Services Administration. Mind you, it's no pizza restaurant. But I think this will be as compassionate a work environment for Cameron as one could hope for. Cameron's only issues with his assignment are the 8:30 a.m. start time and the "business" attire. I pointed out that if he were in summer school, the bus would be arriving at 6:29 a.m. and quickly put an end to his "early" start time grumbling. I'm sure he'll adjust to having a collar on his shirt soon enough as well. I cannot wait to see how this experience goes for Cameron. I'm so glad I made the decision to skip ESY this year, as the job skills he learns will truly have an impact on his future employability.  And just so he doesn't stray too far from his dream, Cameron wants to put in an hour a day washing dishes at Angelico Pizzeria after he finishes his five hours at DDS.