Ask a Self-Advocate: How can school districts prepare students for life after high school?
This post is part of MAC’s “Ask a Self-Advocate” blog series. This series was written by “JOSO*,” MAC’s 2017-2018 Young Adult Leaders Fellow, who is an autistic young man. The Young Adult Leaders Fellowship provides an opportunity for young adults aged 18-26 with intellectual disabilities and/or autism to learn the professional skills needed to advocate on behalf of other youth with disabilities. “Ask a Self-Advocate” was JOSO’s final project for the Fellowship and will include 13 posts published through the end of the year.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
My suggestions are based on my own experience. I realize that what worked for me may not work for everyone else.
In order to prepare students for college, school districts can collaborate with colleges and programs to teach students how to take college classes, live in dorms, navigate campuses, and improve social skills. Dual enrollment programs and summer programs enable students to take college classes while they are still in high school.
For example, my school helped me apply to Minds Matter, a program that helps high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors with high grade point averages (GPAs) apply for summer programs, colleges, and financial aid. This program helped me get into pre-college summer programs and learn the importance of financial aid.
During the pre-college summer programs, I took classes on college campuses, learned how to navigate the campuses, and disclosed my disability to professors for the first time.
Additionally, my school provided me with social skills training. With the support of an adult, I talked to one of my classmates with whom I had similar interests. My school also got me into a program during which I stayed in a college dorm for a week and practiced cooking dinner, doing laundry, and buying groceries.
In order to prepare students for jobs and internships, school districts can collaborate with businesses and organizations to provide job skills training to students, such as how to fill out a job application, prepare and dress for an interview, be on time for work, ask for help at work, and how to complete a task.
For example, my school helped me apply to a Transition Internship Program (TIP). TIP was a program that taught high school students with disabilities job skills during the summer. It included a paid internship at a work location and a weekly workshop. I learned self-advocacy skills, such as how to ask for help at work. I would recommend it for other high school students with disabilities because it can teach them soft and hard job skills in a caring and inclusive environment and they can put it on their resume.
When I got accepted into TIP, I was provided with a job coach and my first job as an office assistant. My job coach went to work with me and helped explain the tasks I was given. As I got more comfortable at work, she stopped coming as much and let me go to work by myself. I gained valuable workplace experience that I was able to use at Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC).
In order to prepare students for living on their own, school districts can have independent living teachers to teach students how to use public transportation, how to do laundry, how to cook, and how to shop for and buy groceries.
For example, my high school provided me with an independent living teacher and life skills training. I was taught how to take public transportation from my house to Tufts, how to shop for groceries, and how to cook following a recipe. This training allows me to commute back and forth between my home and Tufts each day.
In my next blog, I will talk about some things I wish I had known before I turned 18.