Parenting a child with special needs who is mainstreamed can be lonely. Your child doesn't get invited to the birthday parties where the parents gather, swap ideas, and exchange phone numbers. Your child isn’t on the soccer or little league team where you get to sit in the stands and cheer him on. Your child is lonely. As a mom, you miss those friendships that are made through your child’s school, and you often have no parents to inform you what is going on with the class, activities, and the school. As if life wasn’t hard enough. My son is now in his mid-20s and when he was young, we didn’t even have resources like Springible available to help form a community to help us as parents from feeling isolated with our “excluded kid”.
Blake hit all his milestones right on time. Sitting up by 5 months, crawling by 6, walking at a year. Then, at around age 2, he began avoiding eye contact. His speech became delayed. He began having tantrums. The pediatrician said, “don’t worry; he’s a boy.” Or, “Don’t worry, he’s the baby of the family, that’s all.” But as parents, we knew--deep down--something was wrong. By 2 1/2 years old he began to read spontaneously. He’d read the signs on the road, in the supermarket, the menu, and so on. But he couldn’t understand, intuitively, how close he should stand to people in line at a grocery store, that his voice had to be modulated depending upon where we were, who gets a handshake and who gets a hug, and who gets neither. All the social nuances that our older daughters intuitively absorbed were lost on our son. This was unexplored territory for us. We could tutor our children in math, science, and reading but breaking down social interaction was uncharted territory for us. I could go on about trying to be an involved parent to neurotypical children while navigating the mine fields of parenting a special needs, mainstreamed child, but I am sure if you are reading this, we all have similar stories of heartache to share. But for those of you on your own journeys, there is good news.
Through much effort on ours and Blake's part, he graduated from high school and a four-year college away from home (VERY far away from home). Initially, it was difficult finding meaningful employment for him as a post-graduate. He chose not to reveal his diagnosis because he felt that it would lower his chances of getting a job offer. Out of the blue, we were presented with an incredible opportunity. Someone from Blake's alma mater told us that Microsoft was specifically looking for qualified applicants on the spectrum! It is called the Microsoft Autism Program, and it was fairly new at that time we heard about it.
Blake applied. But it seemed that the chances of him working at a company he greatly admired were slim. He went completed thorough vetting process, but they assured him that if he was hired, he would not only receive a full-time position with Microsoft but also a position where he could utilize his skills, education, and he could advance at an equivalent salary with benefits like his co-workers. For my son, a computer geek since toddlerhood, it was a dream come true. He got a job working in the IT department as a service engineer and now is gainfully employed at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft not only welcomed him, it embraced him. It made him feel like a valued member of its community. He was given the support within the company through a co-worker who volunteered as a mentor. In addition to the co-worker, another volunteer from Microsoft, who, in Blake’s case, was an attorney with a son on the spectrum, met him periodically for lunch to make sure he was familiar with the Seattle area and how to navigate the “World of Microsoft”.
Microsoft works with a company called Provail which has been invaluable for us. I cannot praise this aspect of the program enough. Each employee is assigned someone to help with assimilation. Blake got help registering his car, making sure he is functioning well in his job, and checking in regularly with Blake and his supervisors to make sure everything is running smoothly. Although he is rarely needed, this is a great resource for a young man with Aspergers’s whose family and friends were thousands of miles away. As a parent 4000 miles away I can’t tell you how reassuring Provail has been for us. I want other parents to know is that Microsoft is still seeking qualified applicants under this program! More and more corporations are expanding with hiring initiatives like this. There are even virtual job fairs where companies seek members in the autistic community.
As for my son, he could not be happier. As his parents, we are only as happy as our child is. Thanks to Blake's job at Microsoft, he is happy. The future for people on the spectrum is getting brighter every day.
- Ilene Brooks, Springible Contributor