By Melinda Sacks
Spring semester, senior year of high school. It is both the end and the beginning for our son, Alex, who will finish high school in just eight weeks, leaving behind 13 years of struggle and more than his share of unhappiness as a student with significant learning disabilities.
For Alex, it is a time of great anticipation. He counts the days until he is done with high school. He looks forward to attending junior college and taking the classes he actually wants to take rather than only those that are required. He talks about working more hours, saving his money, and getting a place of his own.
For his father and me it is a bittersweet time, but not for the same reasons it might be for many parents whose children are heading off to colleges across the country this fall.
We are both relieved and worried. Relieved that Alex will graduate despite the fact that he lacks confidence as a reader, math facts still elude him if he is under pressure, and dragging him out of bed for school every morning has been like prying a rabbit out of its burrow as it presses all four feet against the sides.
But what will the next few years bring for a young man who still doesn't like to prepare his own meals, regularly finds his bank account overdrawn, and has only one friend, with whom he often argues? Will he figure out how to manage his spending, or prepare a meal that actually contains protein instead of his standby "meal" - a massive bowl of Kona chip ice cream? Will he find a community of friends who will put up with his being so strongly opinionated and his habit of speaking before thinking? Will he secure the accommodations necessary to help him to manage a college-level class?
These are the worries that keep me awake at 3 a.m.
Amazingly, in spite of his learning disabilities and attention problems, Alex has always had big plans. He enthusiastically talks of going to college, even though we know taking even one college-level course is going to be an enormous challenge, no matter how many accommodations are made. He intends to continue working at the two jobs he loves - one as a referee and coach at the local YMCA and the other as a substitute teacher for the after-school program of the neighborhood elementary school.
While school has always been a trial for Alex, he has since the age of 14 been able to hold down a job. Perhaps because he is such a kid himself, working with young children has come naturally to him. He knows how to play, and the kids love him. Over time and thanks to a few nurturing adult bosses, he has thrived in the workplace, learning how to live within the boundaries and structure of a job.
Each day when he arrives home from his morning-only high school classes, Alex gets on his bike and rides to work, where he runs YMCA lunchtime sports programs for a different elementary school every day of the week. Three of those days he then gets back on his bike and heads to his second job working in the after-school daycare program in our neighborhood. He arrives on time, and he gets babysitting offers from the parents of his young charges because he is so popular and responsible.
Can either of these jobs lead to a career that would provide enough income for him to be self-sufficient? Might he be able to manage the schooling required to earn a teacher's aide certificate, or pursue his dream of getting a teaching credential and teaching kindergarten? On good days I believe it is possible.
For the first year after high school, though, the plan is that Alex will take two classes at junior college, and work in the afternoons. Somehow he will have to manage the homework, something he hasn't had to do at his tiny private high school where all the work is done in class. No doubt tutors and time at the resource center of the junior college will need to become part of his routine.
He says he can do it. I hope he is right.
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