It Takes a Village
First published on October 3, 2011.
If you’ve read any of my previous columns , you’ve probably earned the right to be on a first name basis with my son. My son’s name is Cameron. And WE are transitioning. As a part of transition, Cameron’s school places its eleventh graders in workplace internships to learn and develop valuable job skills. Cameron’s dream, Cameron’s whole purpose for being according to him, is to own a pizza restaurant. He’s developed his own secret recipe, which he’ll gladly share with you, if you ask him. He also came up with a name for the restaurant, but it’s not entirely appetizing so I hope he’ll change his mind on that one. The ideal internship for Cameron would therefore be at a pizza restaurant.
Where to begin? Anyone who has known Cameron for more than eight hours will soon realize that he is very motivated by food. (Not too unlike my labradoodles, but I’ll stick to the topic at hand.) If you want to start a conversation with Cameron, food is a good starting point. You will quickly learn of Cameron’s pizzeria dream and his secret recipe. My next door neighbor has known Cameron for more than eight hours, and happened to have a real estate client who leased a space to that would become a pizzeria. My neighbor (without prompting or begging from me) spoke to his client about Cameron, and passed on contact information to me. I then contacted the client who was happy to give Cameron an internship. There was a catch: the restaurant—though only a mile from home—was 15 miles from school, and the internship is to take place during the school day. Luckily, as a byproduct of summer camp, Cameron mastered public transportation , and was more than willing to spend an hour on a bus and Metro train in order to work in a pizza restaurant. The teacher responsible for organizing internships was thrilled to have Cameron in a placement that thrilled Cameron, and was more than willing to do travel training with him. All the pieces fit together, and I have never seen such enthusiasm from Cameron. On school holidays, when interns traditionally take the day off, Cameron seeks additional hours at the restaurant.
The moral of this story is that this placement at Angelico Pizzeria  did not just happen. People who know Cameron wanted to help. Even people who didn’t know Cameron wanted to help. It took a whole cast of characters including a neighbor, a business owner, a teacher, and a willing student to make this scenario work. I didn’t start with a Google search for “pizza internship for ASD student.” I didn’t wait for his school to develop a relationship with a pizza restaurant close to school, and have him work in the assisted living cafeteria in the meantime. Sometimes you just have to push up your sleeves and see what you can make happen. If I’ve learned anything on our transition path so far, it’s that you will need help from various villagers from time to time. The transition path isn’t clear cut, and many hands make light work. Fortunately, most of the villagers along the way are friendly and helpful in countless ways. It’s also fortunate that Cameron does not aspire to be a rock star. Finding an appropriate internship in that case might have required more than a village.