Our twenty-five-year-old special needs daughter returned to her parents’ home to spend the latest N.E. snowstorm. We have a generator. Two days of cooking, watching The Big Bang Theory and The Fault in Our Stars and generally hanging out went swimmingly. The bedtime hour and wake up call on the last night and following morning were remarkable for their lack of drama. “Go to bed” with variations had been my unsuccessful refrain and lament for over twenty years of co-habitation. Though our daughter went to boarding school at 16 1/2 until 21 years of age, even during school breaks and summer break the refrain remained unsuccessfully the same – the proverbial broken record.
Our daughter is literate, reads well and has a remarkable vocabulary; yet the world of time, numbers and money has remained unchanged since early elementary school. Measurements of any kind are abstractions that have little meaning for her. So when you say it is nine o’clock or ten o’clock or draw pictures of that clock or count hours or minutes between events this information does not compute in our daughter’s clever but very special brain. She knows her daily and weekly schedule – a complex entity of work, programming, exercise and social outings – but five dollars, three hours, ten minutes, 9:30, bedtime: these concepts remained out of her grasp. At least until now.
This time when I said to my daughter it is 9:30 time to go up to bed, turn off the screens and she showed little interest, I chose a different refrain: “You have work tomorrow and you want to be fresh for it” and bingo – it clicked. TV turned off, screen closed down and up the stairs to bed she went. Just like that. And for a very wonderful reason: for the last four months our daughter has been meaningfully employed at The Prospector Theater in Ridgefield, CT, where she receives training and wages as an usher, popcorn maker and useful member of a thriving, four-screen state-of-the-art movie theater with a unique mission: “to provide educational and employment opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities through the operation of a four screen cinema.”
Recently our daughter reviewed an invitation to a dear friend’s birthday party in another state. It is an evening party and a five-hour round trip, a long haul for sure. I presented the scenario to her; A Saturday night drive which could include staying overnight or returning the same evening. She placed it all in the context of her work week ahead. I listened to her voice her thoughts. “I don’t want to be tired. I have to work. I have to be focused. No I don’t want to go.” She felt some sadness and concern about disappointing her friend. But her work ethic was the deciding factor.
The Prospector doesn’t mess around with its “Prospects”. They are trained not just in their jobs but also in the responsibility of holding a job. They are not coddled; they are taught and supported and respected. Time may be an abstraction but how it affects performance on the job is now computing for our daughter – has weight – has meaning. Bedtime and awake time – numbers of hours of sleep time – time becomes a resource not to be dismissed or wasted. Time has a correlation with performance – keeping up with expectations – standards. That’s what Meaningful Employment has done for our daughter.
And in only four months. Touch base with us in another six months – maybe dollars and cents, measured in popcorn sales or tickets – might compute too.
The Prospector Theater and its founder Valerie Jensen hope that this model of meaningful employment for disabled adults can provide a template for others across the country to harness their extensive abilities – you know – Give Them A Chance To Sparkle To Shine To Soar and they will. Our daughter is soaring – can’t you just picture your adult child soaring too?
Jill Edelman, M.S.W. , L.C.S.W. 2015