My Milestones - Harnessing the Power of Transition Planning by Sandy Petrovic
Posted on 02/20/18 in School by Milestones
About fifteen years ago, with a young son in the midst of therapies for then-called “high functioning autism,” a special-education friend of mine invited me to accompany her to a conference. There, I learned about Social Stories™ and various autism topics, and I found numerous resources that I never realized existed. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of information, I was euphoric and motivated…there were assists to augment my efforts, and there were supportive people who really understood my challenges-because they shared them! Milestones…how aptly named! I returned over and over.
In time, I advanced to the other side of the podium, having co-authored a book with my now-adult son, David. My conference participation has evolved from attendee, to speaker, to committee member, to co-chair. Through motherhood and my tutoring position at a college academic support center for students with learning differences, I have gleaned several perspectives that I seek to pass on. Here is a vital one:
There is one thing about CHANGE that never changes: the need for transition.
Preparing for EVERY novel experience has made all the difference in David’s quality of life and confidence. And beyond competence in cognitive matters and personal skills, the increasing interactions and complexities of the academic and professional worlds require additional planning and transitioning to result in optimal functioning.
When David transitioned from a special needs school to mainstreamed education in the eighth grade, I met with faculty to discuss his strengths, needs, and helpful accommodations. I also tutored Dave in several classes to help him learn in a way that he could comprehend. He weathered social and academic challenges, and consequently became more worldly, skilled, and independent.
We continued this approach for each school thereafter: a typical high school, a community college, and a baccalaureate program with on-campus living. Besides standard orientation days, we utilized informal preparations to assist with transitioning. We walked the class schedules together and he then repeated these independently. The same was true for learning bus routes (school bus, and later public transportation) and finding needed locations (the cafeteria, book store, etc.). We developed strategies to keep Dave organized and decrease “forgetfulness,” and he took study skills courses to help with exams and paper writing. Life skills such as cleaning and laundry were incrementally added.
The key to David’s success in ALL schools was establishing balance, support persons, involvement in extracurricular activities, and utilization of accommodations/tutoring. Appropriate disclosures (when ready) and self-advocacy (slowly learned with coaching) are part of this successful formula, as is a hard-working and motivated student (several chapters in our co-authored book are devoted to school/college transitioning).
David volunteered before seeking waged work positions. This eased him into learning necessary components: specific job skills, how to get help, co-operation with co-workers, and taking direction and/or critique. In his first paid summer job, Dave dealt with a supervisor’s unpleasant disposition and disclosed to a trainer his need to have skills explained-or demonstrated-in varying ways before he comprehended. These valued lessons would surely be applied in future situations to decrease employee/employer frustration and improve work relationships.
Dave was abruptly dismissed from his first student-teaching internship without explanation. Stunned and devastated, we used this opportunity to analyze every aspect of his performance. David deduced that he could benefit from learning chain-of-commands communication and who to seek for on-site advice. Addressing these and his sensory work needs, we focused on navigating the professional work environment. Dave’s second student-teaching experience was so mutually beneficial that he was hired on as a teaching assistant. He actually appreciated the first, aborted internship for the perspective and improvement it enabled! Learn and grow from mistakes or misfortunes.
In David’s role as a teaching assistant, he found co-teacher and administrative mentors who helped him acquire the aspects of educating that cannot be learned in a classroom. He also successfully handled student discipline issues and parent communications. Needing flexibility for public speaking and graduate coursework this year, David has been employed as a substitute teacher at three schools. This has enabled experience with students of many ages, and has improved his flexibility, confidence, teaching skills, and navigation.
Together, the teaching assistant and substitute positions (including two long-term assignments) have provided David the customized transition that was critical for him to cross the professional threshold. Following the step-wise skill acquisition that works for him (note his academic history), David is now seasoned and confident, and he is fully prepared to manage his own classroom (resume and interview prep have also been addressed and practiced). He has developed a unique teaching style and assembled the tools and supports necessary for him to shine in a role he is passionate about and honored to take on.
The extra time, effort, and transitional experiences were a stellar investment!
Sandy Petrovic is a registered nurse with past specialties in cardiac intensive care and diabetes education. She currently works as an instructional advisor at the Notre Dame College Academic Support Center, and is Milestones' 2018 Conference Chair. As a public speaker alongside her son, she has co-authored Expect a Miracle: A Mother/Son Asperger Journey of Determination and Triumph. See their website for more information: https://aspergermiracles.com/