People who work with students with mental disabilities say more needs to be done to strengthen resources after they graduate from high school.
Lauren Emanuel, the head of the learning centre department at Sackville High School, says it’s rare to see a graduate transition straight from high school into a job.
"There could be a couple of years delay between when they graduate high school and when an agency is able to support them," she said.
Emanuel said some families are left scrambling to piece together a meaningful future for their children. She wants employers to be more receptive to graduates with learning disabilities.
"They do a lot of jobs that others aren’t interested in. But they pride themselves on their work. We train them to be there on time and ask questions," said Emanuel.
At Sackville High School, Tyler Seto is defying the odds. Seto is set to graduate, and he’s secured his first job at Sobeys First Lake in Lower Sackville.
"Graduating is great for me," said Tyler. "It’s come to that time for me to go get my job."
Tyler is already working with the store to learn his new responsibilities.
"My mom and dad are impressed that I am working," said Tyler.
Emanuel wishes more students with intellectual disabilities could have similar opportunities.
"Tyler’s story is a success story just because there is a complete transition from high school into the community working, supported by Building Futures," she explained.
Parents prepare for transition
Kim Seto, Tyler’s father, worked tirelessly to find a suitable employer for his son and arranged on-the-job training to begin while Tyler was still supported by the high school learning centre.
"Between his mother and I, we were wondering what’s next for him and there’s not a lot out there for special needs students after high school," said Seto.
'It makes every parent proud to see their son or daughter succeed in life' —Kim Seto
Emanuel said it's a win-win for the community. The employer gets loyal, hard-working employees and the employees teach the community to be accepting and inclusionary.
"Everyone needs to be a contributing factor in their community and going to work is exactly what they need," she said.
Tyler’s parents are amazed at how far Tyler has come with the support of the school and the life-skills training provided to their son.
When Tyler was diagnosed with a developmental learning disability at the age of three, his parents were told he wouldn’t amount to much.
"Doctors always give you the worst case scenario. The worst case was that he’d never go beyond a five to six education, that he would be housebound," said Seto.
"This is a dream for us. It’s a miracle for us because it’s enabled him to do something, commit to society, be able to contribute to society."
Long wait for help
But not every child has this opportunity.
Building Futures Employment Society is providing a job coach to aid Tyler in his transition. But they have a wait list of 70 people.
Unless they receive government funding to expand their facility, they expect that number will continue to grow.
At Sackville High there are 11 students graduating this year with disabilities. Only three have received confirmation they’ll be going to an agency.
"There’ll be eight for sure who are waiting in limbo to see what happens. And this affects their families," said Emanuel, who is frustrated by the lack of government funding. She’s seen the difference the program can make with her students.
"When Tyler came in he was young, he was quiet, he was shy. And now we have a student who is blossomed, has grown, has matured and is ready to grow and go out and become a contributing member of the community."
Sobeys Manager Darryl Wilson said the company places a strong value on hiring employees with special needs.
"Everybody has value to add and it’s just a matter of finding Tyler’s value and bringing him on and making him part of the team," said Wilson.
"He was a little bit introverted, but now since January he seems a lot more independent, he takes a lot of pride in what he does, he keeps busy and he’s a part of our team."
As Tyler continues to build his skills, his father said he hopes to see him working a four to five days a week by September.
"It makes every parent proud to see their son or daughter succeed in life. But having a special needs child, it’s a little tougher because there’s not much out there for them."