What do you do, when you reach the end of your last year of high school? 

For most Americans, these are the options:
  • You can continue your education at college;
  • You can take up a trade, either by attending trade school or by becoming an apprentice;
  • You can get a job;
  • You can join the service;
  • You can hit the road;
  • You may able to barricade yourself in your parents’ basement;
  • You can go to jail.

The rest of your life will be strongly influenced by this decision.  Contrary to what some people say, there is no universal answer.  It’s imperative that you make the choice that’s optimal for you.

In the education world, this process is called transition, and it’s the focus of several conferences where I’ll be appearing this spring and fall.

For the past decade or two, parents, teachers and counselors have pushed college as the best answer for any kid who had a shot at admission.   They cite statistics that show how much more college graduates earn, and how much better the jobs they get will be.

Persuasive as that argument sounds, college is not the best choice for everyone.  One of the most overlooked choices is the trades.  Originally, “the trades” meant becoming a skilled blue-collar worker – a carpenter, electrician, plumber, machinist or mechanic.

Today the range of trade jobs has expanded quite a bit with the proliferation of high-tech in medicine, mining, and everywhere else work takes place.  All that high-tech gear needs to be set up, operated, and kept in working order.  At the same time, there is still opportunity in traditional lower-tech trades, like forestry or landscaping.

All those trade jobs offer the possibility of good wages for the workers, and many have the added benefit that a skilled worker can become a small business owner.  Business ownership remains one of the surest paths to riches in our society; small business owners as a group are significantly more affluent than workers in jobs, no matter what level of education they have.

Even those “low paying service jobs” that pundits love to denigrate can offer opportunity.  Many chefs and restaurant owners came up from the ranks of cooks and servers.  For countless others, basic service jobs provided needed income while the worker was on a path to something different.

No matter how you feel about our government and foreign policy, the armed forces have been a lifesaver for countless young people.   The GI Bill sent a whole generation to college.  For others, the Army was hell on earth.  So it’s not for everyone.  Opinions in the autism community seem sharply polarized.

The remaining options – hitting the road, riding the rails, holing up in mom’s basement, or going to jail . . . . most would agree those are undesirable.  I’ll talk about how you can avoid those outcomes.

The principal point is – college is not the only good option.  Indeed, for many, it is not the best option at all.  Other paths can be richer, more rewarding, and worthy of respect and consideration.

I’ll be talking about transition and my own story at two important conferences this spring.

The first is next Thursday, February 9, at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI.  You can register for that conference here  

The second is Saturday, March 3rd at Grace Evangelical Church in Fayetteville, Georgia.  Fayetteville is southeast of Atlanta.  Register for that conference here  


4Loopy said…
I was wondering how I can get a transcript or hear about this seminar since I cannot attend either of them. My son has Aspergers and is a sophomore in high school right now. His father is a licensed heating technician and is trying to teach him some but he isn't in technical school. Unfortunately he did not get the math side of aspergers... but excels in language arts, history, and art. He does well in science if it is not too technical or requires memorizing (because he has terrible short term memory). Just worried about my sons future and ability to get along in the real world! Thanx!
Rich@rcantrell said…
As a retired educator, I say thank you for writing and posting this article. We should talk with our children and encourage them to follow their heart.
I'm one of the organizers for the Georgia conference. We're not planning on creating transcripts or simulcasting the conference anywhere. In actuality, the whole conference was because two moms of kids with Asperger's/Autism were ultra-motivated to make it happen for our community. You could too - just takes a lot of "gumption".
I agree with Rich -find out what you're child's interests are, and capitalize on that. You'll have to navigate the waters yourself to find the right niche, but don't forget to include him in the journey - self independence is a wonderful thing. If you're on facebook, come join the ongoing conversations on the "College Bound Conference" page and the "GA Post-Secondary Opportunities for People with Intellectual Disabilities" group. Between the two spaces on facebook, we'll figure out some kind of path for folks to take.
Sunfell said…
Thank you for this, John. I took the military service/trade school route, and could not be happier. I dislike classrooms for the most part, and prefer to learn on my own, but the foundations that were laid in my military tech school have served me well over my 30 years as a techie of one sort or another.

I took my hobby of messing around with computers and turned it into a great career. I'm about to start a second 'side' career with another hobby- messing around with sound. And who knows- perhaps I'll create a third stream with my other hobby- writing.

Doing what you truly love is the key. And understanding your own mind- which, as a fellow Aspie can be a bit of a trick. But I've parlayed my own peculiar gifts into a job that I love. Isn't that the goal?

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