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No Such Thing As Free Coffee

Sean, Ben & Logan at Ben's favorite coffee shop, Smelly Cat.
In the last few weeks, Sean, our six year old, has expressed that he wishes to live with Ben and their cousins when they get older. According to Sean, he and Ben will share money, and Sean will cook supper (his word, not mine). Then he wondered where Ben would work. After talking about a few options, he decided that Ben could work at a coffee shop, wiping down tables and cleaning the floor.

We smiled at Sean's sweet idea to live with his brother when he gets older. Who knows how the future will play out, but it says a lot about what is in Sean's heart.

These conversations with Sean combined with a recent meeting with a mom with a 22 year old child with special needs really got me thinking. This mother was concerned about how her daughter would spend her days when she graduated in May.

I realized that Sean had a point and thinking about this now, and not later was important. Why couldn't Ben work or volunteer somewhere when he is older? And how much older? Ben could volunteer as a teenager at a community organization. There are places that he could develop his skills, form friendships and also begin a routine for when he is out of school permanently. Ben loves the fire department, libraries, coffee shops and sporting events - how could he serve at these places? What creative ways can we help him be a contributing member of his community? Does a cute smile and warm hug brightening a consumer's day count as a job? I think it does!

Lucky for us, other families have already forged their way in this arena. A family I know with a son with special needs worked at a grocery store and then the police department. At the library, a senior citizen and his case worker put DVDs back onto the shelves. Often I see a mom and adult daughter team working at the local children's museum, cleaning up the rooms throughout the day. A close friend sends her teenage son with Down Syndrome to the family farm to work with the chickens every summer.

There seems to be an openness to help our special children find a niche in the community. More likely, as parents, we need to welcome the idea of our children going out into the world and making their own way. We expect it of our typically developing children, plan for it and would be shamed if we did not let them pursue a future for themselves. It may be a different experience - a little scary, more emotional and time consuming, but it is still possible to let our children with special needs find independence as teens and adults.

About a day after those conversations with Sean, he asked "If you know someone, like a brother or cousin, who work at a coffee shop, can you get your coffee for free?" What appeared to be a careful thought process about Ben's future may have been a thinly veiled ulterior motive. Oh brother!

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