My Perfect World
I have a favorite phrase that I use quite a bit with my staff in Career Education: “In my perfect world …” Over the years I have found that if we approach the question of what we want to offer our students each day from that premise, we are more likely to have a chance of achieving the desired results than if we were to start from a place of, “Okay, so what can we do?” Giving our students the tools they need to have the best chance at success in the adult world does not come easily, or without financial considerations. In my perfect world, my department would be able to increase the number of community-based businesses with whom we partner, and reduce the ratio of students to job coaches to allow for more individualized attention on the job, particularly with students who are new to off-campus work. In my perfect world, budgetary considerations would not preclude the addition of new staff to my department to support these students.
However, when the allocation of funds from year to year is either cut, or remains stagnant in the face of increasing costs, perfect-world scenarios move closer to the realm of fairy tales than practical solutions. Transition-age students with developmental disabilities are facing a world of adult services that is in no position to pick up where our high schools leave off. Students who have spent years in preparation for the adult world—working with the belief that services such as job coaching will be a part of their work life after graduation—are finding out that this might not be the case after all, or if it is, that it might not happen in time to do them the most good.
My students need opportunity after opportunity to practice, practice, and practice some more. They need to learn what failure looks like, what it feels like, how to respond to it in an expected manner and not in such a way that they lose their first job within a week of their start date. With programs at the high school level such as my school’s Career Education program, we can give them that chance. We can talk them through the rough patches and provide praise and tangible reinforcement for a job well done while reminding them about what the expectations in the adult world will look like.
In the final cost-benefit analysis, if our legislators and representatives remember nothing else, I urge them to please remember this: Students receiving special education services for developmental and intellectual disabilities will typically receive these services from Early Intervention through the school year when they turn 21. These services can include 1:1 support, intensive related services such as speech and occupational therapy, and small class sizes from preschool onward. I’m a teacher, not an economist, but I have been in the world of special education as a parent and a teacher long enough to know that the costs for even one school year of services at these levels can run high into five figures. Multiply that over the number of years a student with developmental disabilities is in school, and then decide if it is cost-effective to stop short of doing whatever it takes to make sure these young people are crossing the finish line.
Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if students with developmental and intellectual disabilities could simply relax and worry about the things high school students are supposed to worry about rather than whether they will have the supports they need the day after graduation? In my perfect world, my seniors this year can worry about who to take to the prom, where they want their senior class trip to be, and where they’re going to work after they graduate. Nice, normal high-school stuff. Trust me when I say they’ve worked harder than any child should ever have to work just to make it through to earning the right to put on that cap and gown. A little bit of a perfect world scenario would be just what the doctor ordered.