A number of things have happened in the past several weeks that have me pondering the idea of what it means to “let go.” Those of us working in the field of special education are more often than not striving to impart to our students the lessons of independence, or perhaps independent interdependence! We want our young people—our children and our students—to be prepared to face the world of adulthood with as many of the tools for independent living as they can master before that magic age of 21. A system that has been all about entitlement until that age suddenly becomes about eligibility, and what was once a guarantee, at least theoretically, becomes a game of chance. I am fortunate enough to work with individuals in my special education world who commit literally countless hours above and beyond the call of duty to ensuring that these students have as many of their “ducks in a row” as possible when preparing for graduation day. Everything I do in the course of a school day is about preparing students for a successful entrance into the world of adult employment, and for most of these individuals, that employment will require supports. When I think about this, I realize that we all need support at work in one form or another, so it comes down to a matter of intensity. Many students on the autism spectrum will fall into the category of requiring very specific supports to successfully transition to the adult workplace after graduation, and those supports cost money. Surprise, surprise, right? But as the system has worked in the past, the money was there—not in vast quantities necessarily—but such that we felt that preparing our students for the adult world with support availability was a reasonable goal. They did not have to be completely independent workers; if their quest towards mastery of basic employability skills was still a work-in-progress, that was okay too. Help would be there, and after all, one of the lessons we seek to teach is how to recognize that help is needed, and how to seek out that help in an expected manner.
Reality-check, 2012. As it turns out, that help most likely will not be there. Students who have been readying themselves for a world of supported employment, a world that will not expect them to be completely independent workers just yet, are now facing a harsh new reality. Supported employment is a form of help that necessitates funding, and that funding may very well not exist in the near future. The bottom line may very well be that after years of hard work and dedication to the goal of securing as successful a future as possible for these young men and women, and countless others, it is going to be a matter of sink or swim. Too many of them are now faced with the possibility of success or failure on their own merits as they enter the world of employment following graduation without the support they had been counting on, the support that we—their parents and their teachers—have been telling them would be there. So the idea of letting go now moves into a realm not previously considered, when I realize that all that has been done may not be enough. Is there enough time left to compensate for this reality shift? In a world of entitlement where we truly appreciate the value of accentuating the positive, is there enough time to shift gears and say, “Okay kids, the party’s over—when we tell you to take these opportunities to learn from your mistakes seriously, we REALLY mean it this time!” For some it will be manageable, but many more will struggle and that reality is going to necessitate a letting go on a whole new level. As an educator, in order to be able to keep doing what I do, I will have to borrow from the “Serenity Prayer,”: Draw strength from accepting the things I cannot change, find the courage to change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. This will have to be what letting go is all about.