In an earlier post, the Toronto Star Autism Project blog shared a Q&A with Daniel Share-Strom, a 22-year-old public speaker and advocate who has Asperger Syndrome. When Share-Strom spoke at a convention in Toronto last month about navigating the world of work, he talked about what a crucial role his mom had played -- and probably made a few people tear up in the process (ahem). We caught up with Maxine Share, Daniel's mom, to chat about being a parent to a young person who is trying hard to break into the workforce, an uphill task with or without Asperger's. Share is also a consultant for Kerry's Place Autism Services, where she helps advocate for families.
What are the biggest worries and complaints you hear from parents of children with ASD?
Friendships. Futures. These are the areas that cause parents to lose sleep. Establishing and maintaining friendships can be hard for kids with ASD, and the social isolation can be wrenching for both the child and the parent who is watching him suffer. The biggest complaint? That’s easy: having to explain your child’s needs at every turn to service providers and educators who may not seem to share information from year to year, or who don’t share the most relevant information.
I’m sure there’s a lot that needs fixing, but is there one major fix that could help parents that doesn’t exist now?
I hope we continue to find better ways to support our children with ASD in the schools. I would start by making it mandatory that anyone who teaches children on the spectrum should have additional qualifications. At the moment, teachers are not required to have any special training in order to take on a student with ASD. Having said that, I’d take a teacher with a great heart and an open mind any day over a specialist who is inflexible. I love teachers!
Many parents of children with ASD cite independence as their number one goal for their kids, and employment is the road to achieving that. What is it like watching your son become an adult and enter the workforce?
My little boy who sat and rocked and chewed his shirt and was so painfully shy that he would be mute when friends approached, may have surpassed the expectations of others, but not of me. He told me when he was a little boy that he wanted to go to university, and I knew he would — my challenge was to find a way to get him there. When he was two years old, he sat through an entire dinner trying to pick up a slippery mushroom with a pair of chopsticks. Never complained, and maybe half-an-hour-later — ta-da!!—he popped that mushroom into his mouth. That’s Daniel. He will get where he wants to go because he never gives up.
What can parents do to help their kids along the path to getting a job?
I would love to see all kids have a Life Coach. This is someone who can help them to avoid the social, academic, and life-skill pitfalls that can trip them up. I encourage parents to hook them up with great mentors along the way who can help them acquire the necessary skills to be successful in finding a career, looking for work, presenting for an interview, and then maintaining employment. I’d love to see school work on this model as well.
What one thing do you wish employers knew about people with ASD?
I wish they knew that employees with ASD are loyal, hard-working, focused, and care deeply about doing a good job. Many are brilliant: give them room to shine, and you can bask in their reflected glory!