‘Like a sec­ond fam­ily’

Autis­tic youth finds his place at ho­tel set to close


It was a sad day for Diane Daw­son when she learned the owner of Bay Roberts Ho­tel and Scrun­chions Res­tau­rant plans to close his busi­ness and con­vert the prop­erty into con­do­mini­ums and rental units.

For the last year-and-a-half, her 24-year-old son Shawn has worked there. He was di­ag­nosed with autism at the age of two.

“He comes to work with a smile on his face, he’s in the kitchen with a smile on his face, and he leaves with a smile on his face,” Diane told The Com­pass dur­ing a re­cent chat in the res­tau­rant din­ing room with Shawn seated next to her. “He fit right in, and it’s like a sec­ond fam­ily.”

Shawn, who lives in Clarke’s Beach with his par­ents, is not an overly talk­a­tive guy, but when his mom asks what sort of tasks he looks af­ter, he can list them off with rel­a­tive ease. There’s dish­wash­ing, clean­ing coun­ter­tops, sweep­ing, and — per­haps most im­por­tantly — hav­ing fun with his co-work­ers.

Among his best bud­dies at work is Rod De­laney, the ho­tel’s gen­eral man­ager and the res­tau­rant’s chef. It was De­laney who ini­tially hired Shawn af­ter he first con­tacted MRON in Car­bon­ear to in­quire about Sup­ported Em­ploy­ment Ser­vices. Of­fered through a part­ner­ship be­tween MRON and Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion and Skills, the pro­gram helps peo­ple with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties find em­ploy­ment.

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“He’s only treated dif­fer­ently in the sense that we know what his lim­i­ta­tions are, and they’re not (sig­nif­i­cant) by any stan­dards,” said De­laney. “He knows his job. He knows his job bet­ter than any­one else in this build­ing knows his job, and that’s not to put a false sense of se­cu­rity or any ac­co­lades on him. He comes in here and he does a great job. It’s as sim­ple as that. He goes straight to work.”

That com­mit­ment was ap­par­ent when The Com­pass ar­ranged to meet with Shawn and his mother at the ho­tel. Diane ini­tially couldn’t track her son down. It turned out Shawn went straight to­wards the kitchen to sweep the floor, even though he was just drop­ping by for an in­ter­view.

Shawn can list off the names of var­i­ous co-work­ers, in­clud­ing his job coach Deana. Ac­cord­ing to his mom, Shawn even goes to work on days when Deana is sick.

“All we wanted for Shawn was to have a job — 15-20 hours a week was all we wanted,” said his mom. “He just changed when he worked here. He ma­tured. He doesn’t talk a lot, but he started talk­ing more.”

Shawn has gained some in­de­pen­dence through his in- volve­ment in Spe­cial Olympics swimming and even at­tended com­pe­ti­tions out­side the province. Diane con­sid­ers Shawn’s job to be even more valu­able de­vel­op­men­tally.

De­laney him­self has no­ticed a change in Shawn.

“Now it’s more like he’s in there singing, car­ry­ing on, smil­ing, fool­ing around in his own imp­ish way,” he said. “When Shawn first started here, you re­ally thought he was in a shell in some man­ner. If he was that quiet now like he was when he started, we’d be won­der­ing what’s wrong.”

Shawn has made a strong con­nec­tion with De­laney. They share lit­tle jokes be­tween them, and the af­fec­tion De­laney has for his em­ployee is ob­vi­ous when you hear him speak.

“There’s no doubt he’s brought some­thing to this place,” De­laney said. “And we were look­ing for that too on another level. I’d take all the abil­i­ties and all the ac­cred­i­ta­tions, ev­ery­thing you can bring to the job, and all that’s to be re­spected and ap­plauded, hands down. But I’ll take at­ti­tude on an equal level with any kind of piece of pa­per and diploma put on the ta­ble. Who you are mat­ters to me, and we hit the gold­mine here (with Shawn).”


Shawn Daw­son, left, is get­ting a lot out of his job at Bay Roberts Ho­tel and Scrun­chions Res­tau­rant, and his boss Rod De­laney, right, ap­pre­ci­ates ev­ery­thing he brings to the ta­ble.

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