When a senior graduates from high school, conversations and congratulations occur about the awards they have won, the teams they have played on, and the scholarships that have been granted for higher education. Excited by a bright future, parents, family and friends congratulate and celebrate all that is to come. Friends circle the wagons and enjoy their last days together before a summer of jobs and planning and eventually moving on to adulthood occurs.
But what about the students that have just barely crossed the finish line? And the students that have struggled and toiled and felt it might not happen? The students that won't be getting a job or moving on to college or additional higher education? Those graduates also deserve all of the encouragement, kindness and well wishes.
Our 18 year old son Zach has Autism. He is graduating this week from the Autism In Motion program at his high school in Minnesota. Zach can speak, have his needs met and adores school. However, he will never drive a car, hold a typical job, go to college or marry. Zach is funny and silly, has an infectious smile, loves heart to heart hugs, his dog Murray and his family and friends. He also loves the idea of graduating.
Zach will continue this fall in the STAR Program for the next three years. The program focuses on job skills, on the job training, personal care, kitchen skills, social skills, communication skills, money math skills and community interactions. Zach is so excited to know that two of his graduating classmates will be seen everyday. He is sad to leave his teachers and helpers and younger friends at his school, but states, "I am getting so old", and finds graduating pretty amazing.
Zach will continue living with us as for long as possible. We are in the process of modifying our home to create a large suite for him where he can spread out and continue to grow and explore new hobbies. He is a fantastic artist and needs additional room for art supplies and paper storage and artistic creation displays. This summer, he is looking forward to playing with his dog, traveling to meet friends at Lake of the Ozarks and going to Madden's Resort to play some golf in August. He is excited to swim and go to the driving range and spend a weekend at Grandma's cabin. His summer is well planned and much anticipated.
As his parents, we won't be preparing to pack him up and say goodbye as summer comes to a close, but we will be in full on summer fun mode. Seeking out new trails and beaches, discovering new coffee shops, running after ice cream trucks, and finding ways to stay cool in the sun as the pool beckons us numerous times each day. We will take all the small things that produce much joy and savor each moment.
Surround those kids that have IEP's. Love on the graduates who will start working full-time to help support their families. And always be at the ready to provide an encouraging word for the one that will tackle adulthood full on starting the day after they graduate.
Congratulations to the High School Graduating Class of 2021! You have done well, and I as a parent, a friend and an advocate are so very proud of all that you have accomplished. Well done. Well done. Well done.