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Best summer ever!


Last summer, I hired Martha, a college student studying special education, as a peer companion for may 19-year-old daughter, Amy. The inspiration for this experiment came from reading the article Peer Com panions by Ann M. Shannon (EXCEPTIONAL PARENT, April 1989). Both Amy and Martha had many worth-while experiences and developed a wonderful friendship.


In May, Amy was invited for the second consecutive summer to continue her job doing the laundry at a local retirement center. Her whole class does the laundry during the school year as part of their vocational training. For the summer, Amy would be placed by the local county's Youth Employment Program and would work 22 hours each week. However, the hours (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Mondays; 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays) and the location would make it impossible for her to attend a local camp or school program.

Since Amy likes to work and had a positive experience the year before, the job was desirable. The job also provided a much needed social outlet for her -- not to mention the spending money. During the previous summer, I had done all the transporting and kept Amy at home during her off-hours, hiring sitters when necessary. This summer, I felt that Amy needed more peer companionship.


Although my effort to find a peer companion by advertising on the bulletin board of a local university had not worked, I took Amy to work on the first day. At the end of the day, I picked her up and met Martha, the student who was to be her supervisor for the summer. Upon inquiry, I found out that Martha had not been able to find other employment because of the hours of this job and the difficulty of finding a job related to her special education major. While she was considering looking into work at restaurants or retail stores, she bemoaned the fact that she could not find work in her field. I asked her if she would consider working with Amy on Tuesdays through Fridays from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. She accepted and we agreed on a salary of $5.00 an hour. Martha was as relieved to find employment in her field as I was to find a companion for Amy.

Martha and I decided to make the summer home schedule fun and low-key, especially since both Amy and Martha would be working many hours in the heat. After a few days, Amy, Martha and I had worked out a flexible schedule:

* Martha would bring Amy home in her car from work. This alone would save me about forty-five minutes each day.

* Martha and Amy would make their own lunch, with Amy doing as much as possible -- setting the table, opening cans, spreading sandwich filling, etc.

* Since Amy eats a "mile a minute," a leisurely lunch was purposely structured to encourage slower eating.

* Amy and Martha would clean up their lunch dishes.

* Amy would use the typing tutorial on the computer, which she loves, for 15-minutes each day under Martha's supervision.

* They would use the talking word processor to write notes to people and to write stories whenever they wanted. To my surprise, this was the first time that Martha had used a computer with a special education student, and she felt that this would be very valuable preparation for her own teaching career.

* Television viewing would be discouraged.

* Martha and Amy would play card and board games, such as The Ungame[R], Reunion[TM] and Uno[R]. Any is a fantastic Uno player; we really do not know how she manages to win so many times.

* They were to get some daily exercise, such as walking or swimming.

* They were to go to the library every other week to borrow books and music tapes.

* Martha would read with Amy a little each day.

* Martha and Amy were to paint and do art projects whenever they wanted. Martha had just completed a course in art education and thus was able to apply some of her knowledge.

* Other activities included going to the local grocery store and cooking.



Our careful planning paid off for all of us. I had more time for my own activities because almost no supervision was required from me. More importantly, by the end of the summer, Amy and Martha had become good friends, as evidenced by the laughter and teasing that went on between them. They shared many music tapes and each found new artists to admire.

This sharing relationship, while they worked, played and studied together, reaped many benefits for both Amy and Martha.

Amy now had her own friend -- one that was not Mom's, Dad's, sister's nor brother's.

Since the summer, many people have commentated on how much Amy's conversation has improved. The progress involved no speech therapy, just a normal friendship. The fact that Martha was paid did not seem to bother Amy.

When one of the residents of the retirement community where she worked died suddenly in the fall, Amy was able to cope by painting his picture over and over. She sent one to Martha. The painting provided an outlet for mourning that she might not have had otherwise.

Martha gained computer skills and practical experience on how to use some specialized software. She was able to be paid to put into practical use some of her course content.

Best of all, both Amy and Martha had fun and gained a friend.

Nancy Fratini received her master's degree in education in social agency counseling at the University of Dayton. She is currently authoring a series of book-tape combinations which model daily living skills for adolescent and adult readers with disabilities. She lives in Dayton, Ohio, with her husband, Albert, and their children, Albert, Jr., 21, Angela, 21, Amy, 19, and Andrew, 14.
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Title Annotation:summer peer companion for handicapped youth
Author:Fratini, Nancy J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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