Having students that range in age from grade 3 to 12+ (as we often keep our students one to three years after their grade 12 year) is one of the biggest challenges that I face in this job. Its very hard to make things "age approprirate" when dealing with this age so I find that some things just need to be divided up and different groups will work on different skills. Although I've always believed this, my first couple of years on the job were spent on just getting thing established and wrapping my own head around things. In the last couple of years I've been able to start directing programs based on the age of my students.
With my older students, I'm working on finding a balance between academic, life and vocational skills so have been trying to increase the vocational component of our program. I wanted to spend a bit of time sharing some of the ideas that I've had or implemented related to hands-on vocational experiences.
Dog Biscuit Businesss: This idea stemmed from a teacher who posts on the teachers.net Special Education Message Board. Although he teaches a different population from what I'm teaching he has posted several times about running his whole program around a dog biscuit business. It got me to thinking that perhaps we could do something different. I have tried to make the process as assessible as possible to our students so we can work on independence and switch work at the same time. Some things we have already done are use a switch adapted pourer to pour ingredients, use a mixer with a dough hook hooked up to a powerlink and switch to stir/knead ingredients, use colored measuring cups with visuals for students to follow directions, put directions on step by steps and have students read out the directions as we are going along, and use outline matts (laminated pages with a set number of dog biscuits outlined on them) to count out dog bisciuts to ensure that we rae getting the right number in our bags. I'm currently trying to figure out some options for rolling out the dough so that all of our students can do it. I'm thinking of trying out a pasta roller. I found an easy recipe and we make the biscuits about once a week and then I sent out order forms to students in our school and we sent them home. This year we are expanding to other students in our division as we have a student who graduated from our program doing work experience with an adult support worker and they will be able to be our delivery people for around town deliveries. I'm hoping to see this business expand some as I think there are some great opportunties for our students. I'm sure there are many more but I thought I would take a few minutes to throw out some of the ones that I've been storing up.
Weighted Lap Snakes: This was just an idea that came to me when I was talking with someone about weighted belts and blankets and what not. She told me of an OT who makes her own by sewing heavy mateial in the shape of snake and then filling it with aquarium rocks. I thought that a possible business would be to hook a switch up to a sewing machine and do something similar. No intention to this at this point but wanted to put it down as a possible task that could be done.
Paper/Document Shredding: The old tried and true. Although it has worked in the past for us with a couple of students I find that once the skill is mastered and if the student is not feeling a sense of value for doing the task that there is not much point in continueing the task. All the same for a student who does feel that the contribution they are making is important I could see it being a type of vocational job for a student.
Newspaper/Flyer Delivery: A couple of students enjoy this kind of task as there is a definitive end to it (when the delivery bag is finished). I have heard of others who have been able to find organizations that need materials put together first so the task becomes a larger task with even more skills to work on.
Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables: This was an interesting idea that I heard on our local news this summer. There was a group of students who were doing it as a charity/donation project. They would go to grocery stores and pick up fruits and vegetables that were starting to go bad but not yet rotten. Stores could no longer sell them and they would have been thrown out. They cut things up and then dehydrated them and put them in bags to be shipped to countries in need. Veggies can be used for soup bases and fruits can be eating as is. I thought it was a great idea and stored in the back of my head as a possibility for us at some point as we could use food processers hooked to switches for chopping up vegetables.
School Recycling: We do our school recycling. We pick up bins once a week and then sort the materials before they get picked up. We use a lot of visuals in the process including having colored stickers on classroom doors and bins and ensuring that things that get put back where they came from by matching the colors. A few of the students also benefit from the heavy lifting involved with this task.
Rag Business: This is not necessarily one that I plan to try anytime in the near future but wanted to add it to this post as I thought it fit in here. This is a news story about a young lady who is now running a business that has her getting old clothing from consignments stores and turning them in to rags that various businesses around town buy. Here is the link: http://www.theautismnews.com/2009/08/31/rag-business-enriches-life-of-woman-with-autism/