Aug 26, 2013 0 Share

A New Experience

Road sign with arrows labeled "Old" and "New."

A new school year means a new internship for Cameron. One of the many advantages of Cameron delaying graduation has been that his schedule has allowed for an internship for a third year, while most students at his school only have an internship for one year. I have always felt that at this stage in Cameron’s development, experience in the workplace is of equal importance to experience in the classroom.

I received an email last week from Cameron’s Transition teacher, asking for my input on Cameron’s internship this year. I’m very grateful that the school has been so supportive with their internship program, and has allowed my involvement in finding the right placement for him. Cameron’s current paid employment at Angelico Pizzeria was initially an unpaid internship. The school supported this placement, even though it was 11 miles from school, and required a lengthy travel training session. Everyone who knows Cameron well knows of his life’s ambition to own a pizza restaurant. The school has supported this ambition by finding him a second internship at a small restaurant.

When my input was sought for this year’s internship, my first instinct was to say, “It doesn’t matter where, as long it’s in food service.” But then I started to think about it a bit further. Cameron has been washing dishes for two years now. What other skills can he expect to obtain at a restaurant during non-peak hours for his short internship period? Might there be different valuable skills Cameron would acquire if we start to think outside the restaurant box?

I had a chat with Cameron about what type of internship he would like. To my surprise, he said it didn’t really matter if it was a restaurant or not. He expressed a preference for working alone, as opposed to in a group. I tried to offer some examples like working in an office or working at a gym. He offered his own suggestion of working at a vet’s office or a pet store. It was a great suggestion, made even better because it was Cameron’s idea. It’s not often that I can engage Cameron in a conversation, much less engage him in a manner in which he responds with a meaningful contribution. There are typically a lot of “Yeahs,” “I guesses,” and “I don’t knows” when discussing Cameron’s future with him. I felt that little rush of pride when he made his internship suggestion. It was a welcome feeling, since lately I’ve felt so much dread when it comes to Cameron’s future after high school.

Cameron’s new placement is still a few weeks away, and I always get a little anxious when it comes to Cameron in a new employment setting. The first thing that pops into my mind is, “I hope the manager is sympathetic to Cameron’s idiosyncrasies.” But instead of hoping for a sympathetic employer, I should probably focus my energy on Cameron’s behaviors. While those of us who spend day in and day out with Cameron are quite accustomed to his ways of dealing with sensory overload and the tics he exhibits, the general community will find these behaviors wildly inappropriate in some settings. And Dear Ol’ Mom can’t follow Cameron into the workplace each day to prompt him for alternative behaviors when he starts down his all too familiar path of chirping, jumping, and clapping. Just as Cameron will need on-the-job training to learn his tasks for his new internship, likewise his manager and fellow employees will need on-the-job training to learn how to redirect Cameron when necessary. Hopefully, with some practice, Cameron will learn to self-manage these behaviors without prompting from others. I’m afraid if he doesn’t, finding the right job placement for him might be like finding a needle in a haystack.