There are plenty of kids with Asperger’s who make their way through college. We thought for sure that MJ would be one of them. But we gave up on the college dream when MJ’s level of success in her classes proved to be difficult and inconsistent. We couldn’t endure the struggles anymore and we both decided that it was time to stop fighting over it and try another path to employment. That was about 2 and a half years ago. So, it is with great excitement I report that with only 3 more classes to go MJ can graduate from community college!
It can be hard to explain to people who know MJ why she can’t get through a typical college experience. She certainly seems capable when you speak with her. She’s so obviously intelligent and her knowledge about space is impressive. They ask me, “Why doesn’t she become an engineer?” Believe me, we’ve tried our best. I’ll attempt to recap our efforts here. But before I go there I want to tell you how she ended up back in school.
Last month was the hottest April on record. These next few days have been cooler, more like average temps should be. But you can feel the promise of summer and the excitement of the changes to come as the end of the school year and graduation for many draws near. The incremental changes that MJ is experiencing are full of possibility as well. She’s starting to feel minor changes in her body from the hormones and she’s decided to make a few tweaks to her job search, changes that we hope will lead her to a career that will be a better match for someone with the unique set of challenges of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.
MJ is a talented graphic artist and up until a couple of years ago, she was pursuing an associates degree in Communication Design. After the last two internships and ongoing freelance work as a designer, its clear to her that to find success in graphic design requires a level of communication and social skill difficult to reach for an aspie. But MJ is an inter-disciplined creative problem solver. I’ve maintained that the perfect job for her will combine her skills in design and technology. On the journey to the perfect job, we are thinking that at this point, she might find more success and fulfillment by pursuing a technical job. So after meeting with the Pathways team to discuss the possibilities, they’ve agreed to focus their search on jobs like fixing or building computers, software testing, or something else where she might gain experience in IT.
Sometimes I don’t write because it seems there’s nothing new happening. And then suddenly it seems as if too much is happening and I just can’t find the time to reflect and write. MJ hasn’t been so busy since her last internship ended. But the past couple of weeks were busy with appointments for both of us. MJ had appointments with Pathways, Whitman Walker, and her psychologist.
The Pathways team, MJ’s psychologist, and I have been stressing to her, the importance of getting on a more regular schedule. We want her to wake up at a reasonable hour and work at her desk for the better part of each day, whether she works on paying work or not. She’s agreed to do it, but so far she’s been struggling with insomnia at night and ends up sleeping much of the day. We’ve set up call to let her freelance employer know that she is recommitting to getting up and being available for more projects and projects that may require quicker turnaround times. Pathways is also still searching for a permanent job. I’ll have to let you know how all of that goes.
In high school she had a hard time getting to school on time but she never had this much trouble waking up before. Alarm clocks and all the tricks we’ve tried just don’t work. I’m tired from trying to get her up each day. It seems to me that as gender dysphoria has gripped her tighter, the less she wants to be up and out in the world. It’s been debilitating. She is reclusive and I think she would rather sleep all day than have to show up as a person she isn’t comfortable with.
MJ came out to me about 7 years ago. It’s taken me this long to understand and accept that she’s transgender. When she first told me, I thought it was possible that it was another obsession of hers. She’s had many obsessions, typical for people with Asperger’s Syndrome. But gender dysphoria isn’t going away. It’s hold on her is getting worse.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas! We definitely did. And now I’m reflecting on the year and looking forward to starting a new one. It was a rough year, but I’m grateful for the struggle.
MJ’s last internship ended just before Thanksgiving. It provided opportunities for growth in a lot of areas. In my opinion, the biggest accomplishment was getting her driving consistently to and from work. But the job gave her a more regimented schedule and clearly defined tasks and deliverables. And with minor exceptions, she delivered beautifully. On a few occasions, she had to demonstrate humility and give the the client what they asked for even when she disagreed. She learned that it was important to give the client what they want and then to go above and beyond to give them a better solution. This is a very important skill for a designer to learn and one that comes with experience.
MJ drove the half hour to and from her internship by herself for the first time this week! Woo-hoo! I’m doing the happy dance! I am so proud of her.
In the last 4 weeks since the present internship began, I had been riding with her, sometimes driving her there and letting her drive home. A few times she drove both ways but still wanted me in the car. She’s had her license for a long time but until now wasn’t comfortable driving anywhere alone.
Work’s been keeping me from writing and that’s a good thing, but now I have a lot to tell you. First off, MJ will be starting another internship next week and Pathways helped her line up some possible freelance graphic design work. In the meantime, she made her way to New York City for a concert. She also emailed Whitman Walker to make an appointment… AND we celebrated her birthday. As she’s getting older, I’m noticing more maturity and am encouraged by the growth she’s had this summer.
The Pathways team set up this second internship with a publishing company and I think they’ve found a good match. MJ felt comfortable with the employees she was introduced to at the meet and greet. She’ll mostly be putting magazine ads together, but I believe there will be opportunity to do some photography too. Unfortunately it will be more layout and less design but a good environment to practice discipline and develop healthy work habits. There will be a lot more structure and more clearly defined tasks and deliverables than in her previous internship. It also seems that this time there may be an opportunity for employment after 10 weeks. The main concern MJ has is that they work on Macs and she prefers PCs. It will be an adjustment and I just pray she isn’t going to be to obstinate about it.