Friday, September 16, 2011

Motivation to Work

I've been listening to a federal hearing on people with disabilities and employment. I LOVE this sort of thing! A panel of "experts" discussing best practice and "thinking outside the box". I don't consider myself to be an expert on this topic, but as usual I have my own opinion(s). I'm also not hesitant to express them.

A blind doctor just stated that there's a presumption that people with disabilities are looked upon as "broken". Now THAT'S something I've believed for a while. Seems like people who don't spend much time around people with disabilities presume quite a bit. They either pity people with disabilities or look down on them. They are JUST PEOPLE! They don't need (or often want) to be looked at as "special", they need to be treated the same way non-disabled people are treated. It's pretty simple.

When my nephew moved in with Suzanne and I in 2000, he seemed abnormally "spoiled". I think that everyone who had been involved with him, up to his 16 years, had feared his autism. I knew that I was going to have to be firm with him if I hoped to assist him moving from childhood to adulthood, as I had promised my sister before she died. That meant I was going to have "expectations" that he'd be able to learn. Initially, it was a serious struggle for both of us. He was very resistant to change, and we bumped heads on several occasions. I spent a lot of time seeking ways to motivate him.

I found that the concept of being considered a "grown up" was something that appealed to him, so I began praising him when he chose to do something I considered grown up. It was a successful, if not easy, strategy. He began fishing for "grown up"s from me quite regularly. I had to tell him certain things he was doing were things everyone does, and didn't warrant praise. He started figuring out what I was trying to get through to him! He began shaving, putting on deodorant, brushing his teeth, and showering with the cuing of an alarm clock. Can you believe that??

When we were finished helping him become a man, it was time for him to do what all young adults do... move out! He was almost 21 years old, had spent the last year and a half at Sylvan Learning Center (if you want more info. about that, key word "Due Process" on this page), learning to read, write, and refine his math skills. We began a search for the right living situation for him, finding it in a Foster Care home with 4 other guys his own age.

Now came the whole employment piece. Joseph had never had a real job. Would he be able to understand the whole concept of working? He had proved to me that he was capable of doing MORE THAN what I thought he could, so the answer had to be "yes". He started out working at Goodwill. It wasn't a perfect setting, but they have a long history of working with people who are "differently abled". In order to find a solid motivator I wanted to give the idea of working some serious value. I settled on TRAVEL as the motivator. I told him if he worked hard and followed the rules, he'd be able to take trips. After he'd gotten a few paychecks, I set him up to go to a baseball game in Seattle. He loved it!

Using his new motivator, within a year he became a valued employee at Goodwill. Though he was being paid piece rate (which is really a rip-off), he was till doing better than minimum wage. Since he started at Goodwill he's been to Nashville, Vegas, Memphis, Mexico, Arizona, California twice, Alaska by rail, Hawaii, Greece, Missouri, and is signed up for Portugal next spring. Whenever I speak with anyone from the travel company (Trips, Inc. out of Eugene, Or.), they tell me he's their favorite traveler. Now he makes around $380 every 2 weeks, working 20 hours a week, and is one of the best workers in the system. Not bad for a guy with autism.


enerfly said...

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David McDonald said...

I'm game! I'll have more time tomorrow to check it out!

Harry Hilders said...

Interesting read!

Jeff Swenson said...

It is true that bringing up an individual with a disability is a tough task in today’s world. You have taken up this challenge and have emerged victorious! Hats off to people like you. The disabled do deserve a place in society with our support and encouragement. They are no different than us as so called “normal” humans. You motivated your nephew to perform and outdo your expectations. You have set an example to many of us who are struggling with a disabled relative. Your story is an interesting read and thank you so much for sharing it with us!