As a counselor and therapist with a specialization in autism, I encountered many people in the spectrum of all ages. Some were lucky to get diagnosed early, so they could get immediate treatment and lead an everyday life. Others, however, spent their formative years in regular schools, wondering why they were slower than other kids intellectually and physically. Then, their parents would only consider the possibility of them having autism when they could no longer find a college or workplace to give them an opportunity.
One of my newest clients had a similar story to the latter. His name was Sean. He was an 18-year-old teenager when I met him for the first time. His parents did not go to college, so they wanted their only son to experience it. Even if they knew that Sean was not the brightest bulb in class, they hired a slew of tutors for years to help the boy keep up with everyone.
My husband was Sean’s new psychiatrist. I felt the need to emphasize the word “new” because Sean never met a mental health professional before my husband. His parents practically spent a fortune on finding the best tutors that their son could jive with, but they only decided to consult a psychiatrist when no college wanted to admit him.
When my husband referred the teenager to me, he suggested offering family counseling as well. I knew what that meant. I had seen enough of my clients’ families to realize that not all of them wanted to accept that they produced a child in the spectrum even if they already brought them out to seek mental help. In their minds, they were still hoping that the psychiatrists would not see anything odd in their loved one’s behavior or mentality. Thus, they could go back to believing that their son or daughter was merely slower than everybody else.
Is that healthy? Of course not.
I must say that Sean had already been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome before his parents set up an appointment with me. The news was already out of the bag, and all significant parties had been informed. From what my husband told me, the moment dad took it the hard way, given how much they cried throughout the diagnosis face and even afterward. I knew from there that I needed to help Sean’s family along the way, not only him.
But first things first – our primary goal was to help the boy. The parents were aware that sending Sean to college was currently not in the cards; it might take years before he could be ready for it. Besides, Sean mentioned that he did not even like studying, so it was not advisable to push him to do something he did not want to do. So, the next best step for him was to find a job.
“What are your hobbies, Sean?” I asked him once.
“I like building LEGO figures, making coffee for mom and dad, and identifying different linens,” he replied.
After that, I encouraged Sean’s parents to look up nearby toy stores, cafés, and linen shops that hired young people with autism. This introductory experience would be ideal for Sean as it would allow him to interact with different individuals and learn the importance of accountability. They eventually informed me that they went with Starbucks since it was only a walking distance from their home. Still, that’s not the only deciding factor for Sean’s family.
“Our son loved the environment there,” his mother informed me. “It’s never too crowded, so it won’t be overwhelming for Sean. He already knew some of the employees there, too. Best of all, they would train him to become a barista, which he seemed excited about.”
Excitement was a positive sign indeed. People in the autism spectrum were known for not being in tune with their emotions, but they knew how to express their likes and dislikes. And if they liked an activity, you could almost always bet that they would be into it for a long time.
Fast Forward To 2021
Sean had to stop working at his local Starbucks branch during the pandemic last year, which deeply upset him. His parents sought mental help again for their son to make sure that he would not do anything drastic.
When I talked to Sean, he articulated how bored he was at home. After acknowledging his feelings, I told him that he did not need to stop being a barista just because his workplace was closed temporarily. “Your parents and sisters can be your customers for now. You can take their orders every day,” I suggested.
That seemed to lighten up Sean, and that’s how he spent most of his quarantining days. Sometimes, my husband and I would swing by his place to get our “orders” and check on him as well.
Things got better come 2021 when Sean’s workplace reopened. He resumed working there, and last I heard, they were preparing him to do a barista workshop for other young adults with autism.