As a lawyer and advocate there have been a few times in my years of practice when I encountered someone or something that really made a lasting impression. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I met Charles; a 19 year old high school student with Asperger’s syndrome.
My office staff had received a call from a young man who said he attended high school in an adjacent county and he wanted to speak with an attorney to “help straighten out his IEP”. He was given an appointment and because he would be taking multiple buses to reach Fairfax, we allowed extra time on the schedule. He said he had all of his papers in order for the meeting. He was a no-show for the 2:00pm appointment.
At the end of the day I was preparing to leave my office when I heard the bell on the front desk. Upon entering the reception area I found Charles sitting on the sofa with a back-pack and a file folder in his hand. I introduced my-self and Charles apologized for being late for the 2:00pm appointment, saying that he had to take three different buses and walk the last two miles to the office. It was 6:00 pm and he had left home at noon.
We stayed for another hour and Charles told me about his frustrations as a special education student in his senior year. He recognized that most of his teachers were trying to help him, but said his transition goals and services were poor or nonexistent. He repeatedly said that he needed core courses like math and English, without which he said “I won’t amount to anything”. He believed the school had written him off as a kid with limited potential and he was trying to force the school to give him meaningful course work, “so I can get a real job”. To achieve this he was asking for help from a lawyer. I agreed to give him whatever help I could and asked him to let me copy the papers he brought and allow follow-up with school officials. He agreed.
After our meeting I drove Charles to a bus stop far enough to make his return trip easier and we talked about his lawn mowing business, his problems with family and his determination to make a better life for himself. He said he thought it was extremely lucky that the office was still open – he didn’t expect that and said that at least he would have known where the office was “for the next trip”. I told him I was very grateful to meet him and that I thought he was an extraordinary person. He certainly showed me something about self determination and self advocacy.
Shortly after this meeting, Charles said he had home problems and was forced to relocate to another State to live with relatives. I told him that I will keep his file open and whenever he needs help, just call.
I often think about Charles and the many young people like him. It helps to energize my resolve as an advocate.