Julien’s love of animals and in particular horses when he was young, led us to believe that he might have a future in that field. He used to go riding with his brother and sister on a day’s outing with a picnic and he took some lessons in a friend’s riding school.
So in 1999, he started non-paid work placements in various riding schools, cleaning out the stables and also helping with the upkeep of the municipal park – this continued until 2003, from the age of 16 to 20. Although he enjoyed these activities and being outdoors, we soon realised that his hearing-aid (B.A.H.A.), which he just had implanted at the age of 16, was affected both by the dust and dirt in the stables, and when it rained outdoors. This hearing-aid costs €4,000, so we were very worried about its sensitivity to wear and tear. We will talk about this in greater detail in the next instalment.
Julien also attended a normal secondary school during this period until he was 20, with other teenagers with Down Syndrome, in a special needs class.
He then got accepted into a private school but since he was not at all academic and had significant language problems, due to his lack of hearing, he took classes in brick building because the teacher was extremely kind and friendly. He spent 3 years there.
He also did a work placement in a local supermarket which was to prove unsatisfactory as it meant working from 6:00am to 9:00am and we, as parents found it a bit difficult to cope with these early morning hours – not to mention Julien. This only lasted a month.
From 2004-2007, Julien did various short work placements in many different sectors:
- Senior citizens’ residences,
- a Catholic school canteen and
- a canteen run by an association for socially deprived children.
So Julien became interested in cooking and started a course at the local secondary school for 1 year. This was a difficult period as none of these work placements gave satisfaction, because Julien was obviously not up to scratch, the staff were not very understanding and there was a total lack of accompaniment and backup support. You can see Julien’s lack of enthusiasm in the photos!
It was also very trying for us parents and we were on the verge of giving up and looking for an institution or some sheltered environment for Julien, but we realised that that option didn’t exist either.
Finally, in 2007 we got a break! I found a work placement for Julien in a local multi-media library. There was not a lot of work to be done there but the staff were very friendly and Julien made friends with his tutor in the library, who offered him a painting he had done himself, and this proved positive for Julien’s morale and for ours also.
He now had a foot in the Town Hall and the Down Syndrome Association was beginning to have funds to offer backup support. They put pressure on the municipality, stating that they had not reached their quota of employing people with disabilities and they had zero staff with intellectual disabilities. So the Town Hall took on the challenge to find a job that would suit Julien’s abilities and capacities. He was then sent to work in the printing and photocopying department, but there was not much work to be done there either as it was already overstaffed.
Finally, they found a team of employees working in a municipal creche who were eager to work with Julien. He then did a 6-year trial period with short contracts and all his efforts were finally rewarded in 2017 when he was given a permanent state job, qualifying him as a civil servant for life. He signed his permanent contract in 2017.
The other determining and decisive factor for Julien’s success was, of course, the training program that was introduced in 2010 by the D.S. association. This was called Defi 21. They trained the staff on the job and they set up training programs for D.S. people dealing with
- Hygiene in Restoration
- The Working Environment
- Communication Activities
- First Aid
- Gestures and Postures
- Dealing with Emotions
To this day, Julien is fortunate to continue this training program every Wednesday afternoon when he meets his peers. He has a tutor who makes regular visits to his workplace and he has individual meetings too. He works 4 hours a day, 4 days a week so he has plenty of time for whatever social actives he likes doing. He takes drum lessons, he goes to speech therapy and physiotherapy once a week. He sometimes goes to the gym and plays table-tennis with a sports group for the disabled. At weekends, he goes to the cinema and the restaurant and sometimes visits other D.S. couples in their own flats and they go bowling. A fairly normal life!
We never thought we would one day see Julien with a permanent job, living with his girlfriend in their own apartment. It’s been an uphill battle and we felt discouraged on many occasions. You don’t have much choice when you have a special needs child, you just have to keep battling on with the hope that one day a door will open and you’ll find the right path. Julien was one of the lucky ones and I hope this will serve as an example to others, not to give up hope when the cards seem stacked against them but to keep up the fight!
I would like to add that I’m not a Pro-Life advocate. I am a fervent believer in Pro-Choice, the only way, I believe, that our children can become responsible citizens in a democratic society, allowing ourselves and our children to choose their destinies.