A Chance to Belong

Ask Nathan what he likes about his job, and his response is typical for a young adult: Getting paid and meeting new people. But his answer goes deeper than that.

For Nathan, being a part of the custodial staff at the University of Missouri is a chance to be “a part of the community,” something most 20-year-olds take for granted. Not Nathan. He has autism, a complex developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication. 

Landing a job and keeping it is a feat Nathan achieved through self-determination as well as education and support from his family and community. Becoming a contributing member of society is what Nathan’s mom, Sandy, has wanted all along for her son and his brother Mitchell, both of whom have autism. The brothers and their sister, Sara, are triplets.

“I am hoping he can eventually live on his own,” Sandy said, adding that Nathan and Mitchell will always need some outside support. “They’ll never be completely independent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to society like the rest of us.”

Nathan, who lives with his family in Sturgeon, was 3 when he began receiving services through Boone County Family Resources. Over the years, Nathan attended some special education classes but spent most of his time in the regular classroom, Sandy said.

But when Nathan and his siblings graduated from Harrisburg High School in May 2010, the boys had few options for the future.

“They were just hanging out at home,” Sandy said. “We’ve always wanted them to be independent, but without anything meaningful or productive to do, they were losing the skills they learned in school and failing to learn new ones.”

In the past, young people like Nathan with developmental disabilities and fresh out of high school had few opportunities to receive the training they needed to become more independent and self-sufficient. Only people experiencing a crisis were eligible for such services, a restriction that often undermined a recipient’s ability to benefit from the help and sometimes pushed them into residential homes and institutions.

The Partnership for Hope changed that in 2010 by allowing county agencies like BCFR to offer services before a person is in crisis, focusing, instead on preventing failure and increasing the person’s potential for success in the community. Nathan is a perfect example of someone who has grown tremendously from the services he has received.

In the fall of 2010, Nathan joined BCFR’s Life and Work Connection’s janitorial crew, an on-the-job training program that gives participants an opportunity to experience the expectations of a real job – appropriate dress, punctuality and balancing responsibilities. Nathan excelled in his training. In addition, Nathan received vocational training as well as Supported Employment services through ACT in Columbia. He still receives job coaching from ACT.

The support paid off. Last year, Nathan was hired at MU where his workday begins at 5 a.m. Although he rides to work with his mom, who has to be at work at 5:30 a.m., Nathan arranges his own ride home through Taxi Terry’s.

Nathan said his job is “Awesome and tiring.” But most of all, he said, “It’s worth it.”

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