Jemima Pearson is 21-years-old and she’s a homeowner in La Pine Oregon. Yes, you read that right… she owns a home at 21. And, she drives a car that she purchased with money earned working as a pony ride guide at Sunriver Stables. Jemima also lives with autism spectrum disorder and is part of La Pine High School’s Transition Program. The program helps students with intellectual and developmental disabilities transition to independent and productive lives after high school.
“When we met Jemima, she would not talk to anyone or eat in front of anyone. She refused to use the phone or go into new environments. Eventually, she became comfortable in our classroom, but was totally uncomfortable in any community setting. I remember that she refused to talk to new people including cashiers,” said Ken Thorp, Life Skills and Transition Program coordinator for La Pine High School. “It took seven years to get where she is today and we are so proud of her.”
Learning from autism
Pearson explained that autism has been like an “invisible teacher” to her.
“I’ve learned a lot of things, but one of the most important things is that it’s okay to be different,” she said. “You don’t have to be made of the same material as everyone else to be successful.”
Loving and working with animals
Pearson has been employed by Sunriver Stables for the past three years and is currently working six hours each day, five days a week. She said she loves animals.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved horses and I’ve been telling myself that I would be working with horses when I grew up since I was little,” said Pearson.
When asked what she likes best about her job, Pearson said meeting new people.
“I get to meet people from all over the place and that’s really cool. Last week I met some people from Germany,” she said.
With support from La Pine High School’s transition team –along with local business and community leaders – Pearson gained a lot of paid and volunteer experience before applying for the job at the stables. She has worked at a dog kennel, feeding, walking and cleaning dog runs. She has also volunteered with Project Ponderosa, helping to plant more than 1,000 trees, and the Sunriver Nature Center where she worked with snakes and ‘saw all kinds of crazy things and cool animals’.
Independence and diverse abilities
Pearson said one of her biggest obstacles has been getting other people to realize that even though she has a disability, she can be independent.
“My advice to other transition students is to keep trying and you’ll eventually get it. There is no obstacle big enough that you can’t get over,” she said.
When it comes to living with autism, Pearson said there are a lot of positive things.
“What I like about autism is being able to see detail. Because of my attention to detail, I’m able to tell when something is out of place. Even if it’s the tiniest thing, I’ll notice when no one else does,” Pearson said.
A lesson in social skills
Pearson said there are some funny things that happen on the job, but they are also good learning experiences.
“A parent asked me if they could get on the pony with their kid and the weight limit is 70 pounds,” she explained. “I had to say ‘no’ but I had to be very careful how I said it.”