Let's Get Down to Business
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Kirk and I have been talking for a while (okay, years…) about what Nolan’s future will look like. I feel like most parents do—at least to some extent. But with Nolan, our options are different for obvious reasons. Employment opportunities for adults with autism can be very hard to come by. Knowing that any employment opportunities Nolan may have are in other people’s hands is terrifying to think about.
A couple of months ago, Kirk asked if I had seen an ad—I think the ad was for a credit card company or maybe a financial planner… In it, a mother talks about how their lives changed when their son was diagnosed with autism. She goes on to explain that she left her job to start a business with her son making soap. They flash from mom and son as a child to the two as adults working together.
Of course I had seen this commercial. My internal monologue at the time? “That would be awesome, but too bad I’d never be able to make it happen.” I thought I was being realistic, but maybe I was afraid to take the risk.
Kirk, it seems, was not—he asked if it was something we could do. Remembering my knee-jerk reaction to the ad, I replied with a, “Maybe…”
So that idea has invaded my brain… It found its way in like a mouse through the tiniest of openings. But instead of the approaching winter that the mouse would have been seeking shelter from, our approaching deadline is, instead, the end of Nolan’s time in school (likely when he's 21).
In the time since, this idea has found a spot in my brain and is getting settled in. And I have to say, it’s gotten quite comfortable. I’m pretty sure the nest it’s made has grown significantly over time. Unlike a mouse’s nest, though, instead of being insulated with grasses and bits of shredded paper, it’s fortified with ideas of the benefits that this could reap for Nolan. Things like job skills, responsibility, a sense of purpose and potential long-term employment if it goes well.
Just a couple of days ago, a friend sent me a Tik Tok video from Jordyn’s Summer Shirt Project. Jordyn is a young adult who lives with autism. In 2018, Jordan and her family started selling t-shirts with the goal that by the end of that summer, Jordan would be able to process one single order from start to finish. That process included rolling the shirt, adding a wristband, and signing a thank-you note independently. Their efforts were so successful that they’ve been selling shirts year-round ever since. Even better? Jordyn is a t-shirt rock star these days. Seriously—you should see her roll a shirt! (No really—find her on Tik Tok or Facebook!).
And obviously Jordyn’s family isn’t the only one who has decided to take this kind of action… There are stories of people opening coffee shops to give their kids and others with disabilities work opportunities. There’s also John’s Crazy Socks—a business started by a father-and-son team to bring joy to the world through socks while providing employment opportunities for both John and other adults living with disabilities. I’m sure there are countless other parent/child teams out there that I’ve never even heard of who decided this was the right move for them.
But something about Jordyn’s story really took hold. Or maybe her story is just a reminder of the reality of what lies ahead for us… It’s almost as if that mouse of an idea had babies while it was getting cozy in my walls, but instead of a wall full of mice and ever-spreading nests, I’ve got an idea growing in my brain (vague though it is right now) and infesting my thoughts with the need to turn an idea into goals.
So now begins the thinking, plotting, and planning. I could start with my existing Etsy shop, though it’s teeny tiny and pretty inactive these days. Or I could start with something we know… Kirk knows writing (and I pretend to) and proofreading, but those aren’t exactly things that we could involve Nolan in at this point… I know a few different crafts, so we could definitely involve Nolan in some sort of production. Or we could go another route entirely and sell something pre-made and Nolan could help with sorting, packing and thank-you notes. Better yet, maybe we could do something involving sensory items, fidget toys, or music—something that he would already have an interest in (since watching YouTube isn’t exactly a job skill…)
And then we consider things like logistics and budgets…
-Maybe we sell the softest blankets we can find, but where do we store our inventory? Can we make space in the basement? And what kind of storage solutions will we need to invest in? What about shipping?
-Do we learn to make candles, jewelry, or wind chimes? Or ramp up the things I already have in my Etsy shop (t-shirts, stickers and pins mostly…)? Or do we invest in a piece of equipment like a laser engraver to offer personalized gifts? And where do we do our making? How much can we afford to invest in equipment and inventory?
-Is there something music-related that we could do?
We clearly have more questions than answers at this point, but at least I feel like we’ve got direction and a goal. That feels like a better place to start than being afraid to take the risk.
If anyone has any ideas for us, send them our way… We’re listening.