Apr 30, 2014 0 Share

Calling Out Stressed

Stressed out woman talking on telephone.

We are almost to the end of the school year, and that means we are fast approaching the end of our teachable moments for the class of 2014. In the ramp-up to this year’s Commencement, we have students on the autism spectrum hitting maximum density. One more stressor and things are going to get ugly. Time off is desperately needed, and almost nowhere to be found. So, when a very abbreviated Spring Break arrived mid-month, more than a few students took the opportunity to take back what they felt was rightfully theirs: days added on to make up for snow days this past winter.

For several of my students, this meant missing work shifts in their Career Education program. This program is all about the development of employability skills, with one of those skills being the very grey issue of when and how to request time off. We strive to create as real-life an environment as possible, and as such have expectations that the students will give notice when they need to miss scheduled work.

My teachable moment arrived with a young woman with Asperger’s who was most assuredly feeling the pressure of too much going on and not enough “down time” to regroup and recharge. She is also a senior, which means all of that real-world stuff I keep prattling on about is here. She has postsecondary plans which could include a program in the medical field, and a Career Education program which has her working at a local hospital. When faced with increasing—albeit self-induced—pressure surrounding the week that had been slated as vacation time, this young adult made the decision to stay home from school on the last day before our break. This meant taking time off from the hospital placement. In a testament of sorts to the fact that some of what I teach sinks in, she did let us know that she would miss her work shift. She needed the day to herself to decompress, recharge and prepare for the social demands that Spring Break would present. She needed her “alone” time, and I could not only completely sympathize with her in that respect, I found myself a tad envious that there was no way I could do the same thing, given my own AS-hypersensitivities were on overdrive! BUT … missing that particular day meant missing a hospital work shift to which she had made a specific commitment.

Furthermore, and even worse, when the much-anticipated and abbreviated break arrived, so did an unwelcome form of spring fever in the form of a sinus infection. The illness ran through the break and well into the following week, which meant—you guessed it—more absence time from the hospital shift, and way more stress and anxiety when then faced with needing to miss work. This young lady could not, despite what I believe was a sincere effort, understand why I was concerned about her taking the “sick” day off in the first place. She had, after all, followed protocol for taking time off. To make matters worse, she really could not understand why this decision had any possible negative ramifications when she then needed to miss more work for a legitimate reason. My words of wisdom for her were simple enough: In the “real world” we need to consider all sorts of  “what-if” scenarios, especially when it comes to work. The fear behind these words, which I do not think left their mark, is that jobs are going to be hard enough to come by in the world we live in for the class of 2014, and too many of our young people on the spectrum are entering the job market without a clear understanding of what awaits them. Hopefully when my student and the countless others like her hit the world of work, they will be met with the kind of open-mindedness and understanding that they will need to navigate the adult world. On the bright side, I know it’s there … because if I found it, so can they!