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Family Shares SSD Journey

Recent high school graduate J.J. Steamer is a testament to the success of SSD’s vision: partners for every student’s success. In conjunction with J.J. and his family, a multi-disciplinary team has worked together for nine years to help J.J. overcome challenges and reach his goal of becoming a high school graduate.

Recently graduated from Affton High School, J.J. received SSD services including occupational therapy, speech therapy and resource services. His journey is a great example of how students can overcome obstacles, meet challenges and persevere with the right supports.

According to his mother, Melinda Steamer, J.J.’s early years were filled with a series of challenges. “Early on, I could tell something wasn’t quite right. He was easily distracted in school, his teachers had a hard time keeping his interest, he was disorganized with his schoolwork, and he was deeply disturbed by any changes in schedules.”

J.J. and his family worked with school administrators, doctors and counselors to try and determine what they were faced with during his early elementary school years.

“We went through several different types of medicine to ‘cure’ J.J.’s behavior because everyone seemed quick to diagnose him with ADD or ADHD,” says Melinda. “None of the medicines seemed to help his problems in school.”

Finally, in fourth grade, J.J.’s primary teacher recommended he be tested through SSD. “Words cannot adequately describe the shock and horror I felt when I met with all of those involved in the testing and they said the word ‘autism’ to me,” says Melinda. J.J. was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism that is considered high functioning, but still has its own challenges.

“After the initial shock wore off, I read everything I could about Asperger’s and all of the characteristics fit J.J. to a tee,” says Melinda.

Since his diagnosis, J.J.’s school and SSD provided a multitude of services. “I will always be grateful to that fourth-grade teacher,” says Melinda. “J.J. has received academic help, occupational therapy and speech therapy. He still has problems focusing in class when it doesn’t pique his interest, but he’s come a long way since the early days.” 

J.J. is looking forward to the next stage in his life, and SSD is helping him with transition. “I’m glad I’m done with school,” says J.J. “And I’m excited for the next part of life, but I’m also concerned about the future.”

During his last semester of high school, J.J. started working in the afternoons at K-Mart for school credit. “J.J. thoroughly enjoys work and being out in the real world,” says Melinda. “Looking into the immediate future, college is just not an option at this time. 

"But thanks to SSD, J.J. is enrolled in a work program that starts this August. He will be working at the First Congregational Church, which is part of Webster University,” says Melinda.

J.J. will work about 30 hours a week and delve deeper into the real world:  working, dealing with bosses and co-workers, job duties and new responsibilities. He will be with other young adults like himself and will work with a mentor to guide him.

“The program is a mix of work and school,” says J.J. “We will be doing multiple things including working in the library, doing community work, and helping out around campus and the church. I am definitely looking forward to it.”

Melinda has high hopes for J.J.’s future.

“He will be able to stay in this program until he is 21 years old,” says Melinda. “At that time, he might be ready for college or technical school or a full-time job. We’ll just have to wait and see. I am extremely proud of J.J. and his accomplishments, and very happy to be his mother.”
Photo of JJ and mother
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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