Madeline's Mentoring Day
Madeline, Pulley Career Center Student
There’s no substitute for on-the-job experience as Pulley Career Center student Madeline can attest to. Madeline was one of approximately 50 students who participated in Fairfax County Disability Mentoring Day, learning about the different jobs available in Fairfax County Government and shadowing an employee for part of the day. An added benefit is that employers have the opportunity to meet qualified job candidates throughout the day.
Fairfax County Disability Mentoring Day promotes career development for high school students with disabilities through career exploration and job shadowing in the following fields:
Madeline spent her time at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter with adoptions counselor Daniel Davis, who hosted a tour, introduced her to many of the animals available for adoption, and showed her how to access online information about the animals.
Students with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) who are working with an Employment and Transition Representative (ETR) are eligible for the program. Most of the students who participate in Disability Mentoring Day need minimal guidance, if any, and are able to interact with an unfamiliar person effectively for a limited period of time. They may have a learning disability, visual or hearing impairment, physical challenge, emotional disability, or have more significant intellectual or developmental challenges, including autism with which Madeline is diagnosed.
School to Adult Life
Students prepare to transition from school to adult life—including employment—at Pulley and Davis Career Centers. They learn about the many jobs that are available; identify and practice the necessary skills for each job; complete surveys to determine their personal talents and preferences; practice preparing resumes and cover letters; learn interpersonal communications skills and professional behavior; and learn the importance of responsibility, reliability, and ethics to build trust in the workplace. The ultimate goal for the students is independent or minimal support employment as an adult.
Feedback from students and parents has been overwhelmingly positive, says career and transition teacher Sue Eaton, one of the organizers of the event, who adds, “Work-based learning with special education students does have a huge impact on the likelihood of engagement rates in education and employment after graduation.”
What is Autism?
FCPS defines autism as a developmental disability that significantly affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interactions, generally evident before the age of three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routine, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Autism is a spectrum disorder so the individual’s communication, sensory experiences, and interactions are impacted in varied manners and degrees.
How Common is Autism?
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in March 2014 identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum.
What Causes Autism?
We now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism.
Symptoms of Autism
- Social symptoms
- Communication difficulties
- Repetitive behaviors
Just as individuals with autism have a variety of difficulties, they also have some distinctive strengths.
Some strengths that can be translated into skills in the workplace include:
- Ability to understand concrete concepts, rules, and sequences
- Strong long term memory skills
- Math skills
- Computer skills
- Musical ability
- Artistic ability
- Ability to think in a visual way
- Ability to decode written language at an early age
- Honesty – sometimes to a fault
- Ability to be extremely focused – if they are working on a preferred activity
- Excellent sense of direction
Disability Mentoring Day is part of the FCPS Strategic Plan, providing work-based learning-internship and industry certification opportunities for students through community and business partnerships and expanded programming.