The following is an unpublished post from 2016. Although my son has since moved on to a different job, the lessons learned are still valid.
It all started in music theory class.
Well, sort of. It really all started with being part of a loving Christian community.
My boy, who is on the autism spectrum, is 16. And like many parents of kiddos with disabilities, I worry—more than I like to admit. We are in the transition phase of his life, when we start to focus on his transition from high school to whatever is next—the workplace, post-secondary education, or a combination of the two. Will he be able to get a job? Will he be able to navigate life as an adult? Will he be able to live on his own? Most of all, will people give him a chance to get a job and see past his stims, developing social skills, and odd behaviors?
Before I get to the next part, let me just mention that I have been more in tune with this year’s (2016’s) US Presidential campaign and election. I have been feeling afraid that one of the leading candidates, should he become president, would be disastrous for my family and especially for my sons, who are both disabled. I imagine program cuts and the things that we have to fight for so that our boys get a fair shake in life just being gone. I also fear their being victims of hate crimes. Without going into specifics, just keep in mind that I had been going back and forth in a heated, but friendly, political discussion with a church friend named Jay. He passionately supports this candidate and I passionately oppose this candidate.
“Jay” and his partner “Troy” had gotten to know my son when they sat together in a music theory class held at our church. And of course, anyone who sits with my boy and enjoys him wins my heart. I shared with Jay, who owns a flower and home accents shop, about a non-profit that a friend and I considered starting up. We would be teaching work ethic and employability skills to older youth and young adults with developmental disabilities. (We since discovered that there were other organizations doing this. Hooray!) Jay then sent me a link to a video that showed a young man with autism who got his dream job as a barista. I replied to Jay that I hoped that my boy would find a good first job, and that the video gave me hope. He assured me that my son would find a good first job.
Of course, in between all of this, we were discussing the controversial presidential candidate, sometimes heatedly. I remember worrying that maybe Jay would “unfriend” me on social media. We are both very firm in our beliefs!
So imagine my surprise when Jay messaged me and said that my son had been on his heart and he wanted to help my son by offering him his first job. (I think this was right after I accused Jay’s favorite candidate with hating people with disabilities.) Jay said that my son could come on Saturdays to clean flower buckets, sweep out the walk in cooler, and perhaps eventually help unload flower shipments. I talked to him, first reminding him who Jay and Troy were by showing him their pictures on facebook. He remembered them from music theory class and was open to working at the flower shop. Hooray!
We took a family outing to flower shop as soon as possible. My son prepared a list of questions, with our help, and asked Jay what he’d wear, if he’d be inside or outside, if he needed to bring anything, and what he’d be doing. Jay patiently answered his questions and showed my son the back room where he would be working. My son saw the cooler, buckets, sink, and cleaning supplies. He kept saying, “That’s cool!” and a couple of times said, “I can’t wait to earn money!” He found out ahead of time that there was a pug that would be in the back room, too, which was good because he can be uncomfortable around animals. As we left the shop, He said to Jay, “Thank you for your plan to hire me.” And Jay said, “You’re welcome. It will be fun.”
The whole time we were there, Jay was so warm and welcoming. Troy came out and welcomed us to the store, gave me a hug, shook my husband’s hand, and introduced himself to my daughter. He informed me that when my son begins, our family will get the employee discount!
I expressed my deep appreciation to Jay and Troy. Jay heard my concerns and reached out. My boy was getting a chance to work and earn a paycheck! And I was hopeful!
Several things I learned through this experience:
1. Affirmation of my parenting: I tend to “interest” my son in things and make him go to things that he’d not choose. Music theory class was one of those things, and that’s where he met Jay and Troy.
2. Be open- minded and don’t burn bridges: someone who seems to be on the opposite side can actually bring blessings and hope. If I had said “No” to Jay’s offer because he and I were political opposites, my son would not have this opportunity. Likewise, if Jay would have only been wanting to help someone who shares his political views rather than his faith views, this opportunity would not have come to my son. I think that, not only will Jay and Troy bless my son, but my son will also bless them.
3. From a pragmatic point of view, sometimes it is still “who you know” that gets you employment . Even though I am so very grateful for this opportunity for my son, I know there are others who still are waiting for someone to give them a chance. This is why we considered beginning our non-profit organization.
4. From a faith point of view: living out the Christian faith despite differences will make a huge positive impact.
My boy got his first job. And that brings me hope.