In my last post, Busywork and the Consequences of Low Expectations Part 1, I chronicled my daughter’s journey from a special education resource room to adult camps geared towards those with special needs. Along the way, I highlighted the missteps by adults who should know better—those professionals who either assumed my daughter was capable of less than she was or simply did not take the time (or lacked the knowledge) to teach in a graduated and methodical way.
Those who run social groups for teens and adults with special needs have provided even more situations where low expectations are the norm. But first, a bit of history about my daughter’s social skills education.
The Need for Socialization for Children with Autism
Social situations in school provided another opportunity for professionals to misjudge my daughter’s abilities. I already knew that she needed help to “play” with other kids, so I instructed one of her tutors to accompany her to a play group provided by a local university when she was four years old. The tutor set up situations with other kids and encouraged her to mimic their interactions, and she improved much during this time. After two years, I enrolled her in kindergarten in a charter school (that had started operation that year), and the same tutor accompanied her for that year.
When the tutor could not continue, I took over, and for the next three and a half years I became the classroom “helper.” I helped teach children when they were divided into learning groups and supervised the class during recess and lunches, subtly (I hope!) incorporating social situations that included my daughter.
Each teacher seemed to be amazed at what my daughter could do, but their lack of resources seemed to prevent them from providing meaningful social/teaching opportunities. When she entered fourth grade, the teacher could not control the noise level of the students, and she languished. I moved her to another charter school.
Even her time spent at a private school, one especially created to help teens with special needs, turned out to be a disappointment. At first, I thought I had made a good choice. But when the founder left, the focus of the school changed. By the time we withdrew her a few years later, the students who received the most attention were those who were loud, and my quiet daughter had fallen through the cracks.
After our daughter graduated from high school (in Illinois), and then entered the local community college, I did not feel that she needed extra social opportunities. She received her Administrative Assistant Certificate and subsequently worked in the concession at the Nashville Sounds baseball stadium. My husband and I were (and always are) proud of her. Then came the program for special needs adults through Vanderbilt University.
Our Move to Southwest Florida
We moved to southwest Florida after she spent two semesters in the Vanderbilt program. The goal when moving to southwest Florida was two-fold: to “retire” and to secure an apartment for our daughter. She had found a job as an accounting assistant on Sanibel Island, and we were extremely proud of her.
I did locate a social group, and the setup was a strange one. Monthly payments were due (in addition to event payments), and the founder was quite secretive as to the group’s board members. She refused any help that either my husband or I offered, and it was quite clear parents were to be minimally involved. Supposedly, their main objective was to help each member live independently.
Because the group was so large and the meetings too short, everything our daughter told us indicated it was little use as to provide real help to the young adults, but our daughter did enjoy the outings. When it was time for her to meet with the founder (as each member was supposed to do), our daughter mentioned that she needed help with self-advocacy and to find an apartment. Nothing was done to address either of our daughter’s concerns, and by the time we met with the founder to receive feedback, we had visited several areas in Fort Myers to find out if affordable housing was available. We told the founder what we had discovered: that no affordable housing existed in what was considered “safe” neighborhoods. The founder agreed that affordable housing was a problem and told us one member’s parents bought him a condo. This unhelpful information helped us decide that living in southwest Florida would not be beneficial to our daughter, and we moved…
…Back to Michigan
Because we moved to a different part of the state (from where we had lived previously), I was not familiar with the social opportunities in the area, and I did find two social groups that met regularly.
The first social group was almost an hour away, and when we arrived the large number of attendees were seated in separate round tables. After paying for pizza and a drink, we sat at a table occupied by two other families. I realized after a few moments that the other young adults did no talking, and we parents were left to converse. I walked through the large room and after a few minutes noticed that each table was a microcosm, and unless a newcomer sat down at an occupied table, he or she would go unnoticed. Katie tried to talk to the others at our table but received few replies, and she became frustrated.
Another group I found was closer to our home, and parents were allowed inside on the initial visit only. I stayed, talking to another parent who had brought his son to the group for the first time, and watched as my daughter struck up conversations. She seemed to like this group, so I was happy to take her.
The problem with this group, as with the other group, was that new attendees were not introduced to the others. I understand that some would not want this, but the option should have been offered as my daughter would have welcomed it. The ice would be broken, so to speak, possibly allowing for easier interactions.
From Social Groups to “Cooking” to “Life Skills”
Our daughter seemed to enjoy the monthly social gatherings, so when cooking classes (as a part of life skills), were introduced, our daughter signed up. The cooking consisted of each attendee performing a specific task: cutting vegetables, stirring meat, etc. I realized soon on it was not a “cooking” class since each attendee was busy doing their own task and was not able to cook a dish from start to finish. The “life skills” and “independent living” part of the class was nonexistent.
The “Low Expectations” Mentality Strikes Again
One class stood out, though. For Mother’s Day, attendees were instructed to fill a little metal bucket (that they decorated) with soil. In the soil they planted pansies. Finally, they wrote a greeting on a small garden marker. That day, I was waiting for my daughter in the parking lot and was perplexed as I witnessed adults in their twenties leave the class carrying a small metal bucket. When my daughter showed me hers, I was taken back. She told me that creating the bucket of flowers was the only activity they did that day. And it was a “craft” meant for grade schoolers. In an effort to reduce cooking instruction and to capitalize on Mother’s Day, busywork was introduced to adults in their twenties.
I assured her I loved her gift, but inside I was furious. Not only were the attendees not provided an opportunity to learn about cooking (or life skills), the $25 for that class (for each attendee) was spent by organizers on dollar-store items.
A Sad Realization
It has taken me years, after sending my daughter to camps, social groups, and “life skills” classes, to realize each venue produced little value. I’ve even tried to allow for a kind of passive benefit for her, one not obviously seen, and once again I am skeptical.
For years I have included my daughter in cooking meals, but because she was interested in the classes, she signed up. Since then, I have explained that in my opinion the amount of money for the classes is not worth the knowledge gained. My daughter can cook a variety of easy dishes, and she has recently indicated she wants to cook more meals. I’m gradually letting her do more and more of the tasks, and she is becoming more confident in her skills.
My fear is that my daughter will be subjected to the “low expectations” mentality the rest of her life. My task now is to help her to speak up—to tell the so-called professionals or those who run “life skills” classes (should she decide to attend one) that she and the other attendees are capable of so much more than has been attributed to them and that those in charge should teach accordingly.
As when she was a three-year-old languishing in a poorly run resource room, the responsibility of teaching my daughter resides with me. In preparation for my daughter’s independent living, my coaching encompasses more than cooking instruction.
And I am happy to do it.
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