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Brenda Kosky Deskin
BY Brenda Kosky Deskin

Hiring? Top 10 Interview Questions for Special Needs Families

We parents of kids with special needs wear many hats, including ‘human resources director’. In our ongoing quest to find people to lend a helping hand, we must search out individuals who can provide respite, tutoring, therapy to our kids on the Autism Spectrum, and the list goes on.

Since the age of three, my son, Michael, has been home-schooled in an ABA program and his front-line therapists have, for the most part, been students attending our local university. Now 18, Michael continues to thrive under the tutelage of some amazing and very special people in our home-based therapy program while I continue refining and streamlining the hiring process in my ongoing search to find the brightest and the best to work with my son.

Special Needs Hiring Questions

Here are some questions I have found helpful in assisting me with the decision-making process about whom to hire, along with a brief explanation following each question providing the reasoning behind each.

1. Why is this job of interest to you?

This question is all about first impressions. I want to hear how well-spoken the person is,  and learn more about her and ‘what makes her tick.’ If her answers are all about “me, me, me” (e.g. “This job would be great on my resume”), I immediately lose interest. I’m looking for someone who is genuinely passionate about helping others overcome obstacles and who finds joy and true fulfillment in making a positive difference in someone else’s life.

2.What do you know about [your child’s particular challenge(s)]?

I’m not necessarily looking for a correct answer. What I want here is honesty. If someone can’t even define Autism, that’s okay. I’m completely willing to train someone with absolutely no experience. If, however, someone is clearly trying to bluff her way through this question, I’m not impressed. Honesty and integrity are paramount to me. If someone doesn’t know what Autism is, I’d much rather hear “I honestly don’t know, but I’m really eager to learn.”

3. Do you have any experience working with children or people with special needs?

If someone hasn’t done at the very least some babysitting or interacting with younger siblings of their own, I’d be a bit concerned. I love hiring former camp counsellors and people who babysat their way through high school. This shows me they have always naturally gravitated to kids and have a good comfort level interacting with them.

4. Are you in school or do you have any other jobs? If so, how would you go about managing your workload?

If you are interviewing someone who has a lot of other commitments or responsibilities, you want to make sure they she has good time-management skills and will not be calling you twenty minutes before her shift is to begin, informing you that she can’t make it because she has a school paper due the next day. Give her the opportunity to explain how she plans on managing her various obligations and see if she is up to the task.

5. What are your short-term plans?

Find out what she wants to do within the next year or so. If it is applying to various grad schools across the country, it may be a red flag that she won’t be around much longer and you might want to think twice, especially if the job involves investing a considerable amount of training in the new hire.

6. What are your long-term plans?

This is another question I like to ask to get a feel for what the person is all about. If her long-term aspiration is to be a computer programmer, your job might not be the greatest match. I generally gravitate toward people who are geared to occupations like nursing or social work, for example.

7. Do you have any vacations planned or require anything more than one week off in the foreseeable future?

Believe it of not, some people might not think to mention that trip to Asia to teach English as a second language for two months, or the job they just got as a counsellor at a sleep-over camp that will require them to have summers off.

8. Do you have a valid drivers licence? If so, how long have you been driving? Do you have any demerit points? Do you own your own car?

These questions may be of interest to parents who require their kids to be taken on outings, to school, etc.

9. Can you provide me with references?

I personally prefer phone numbers, rather than letters. Although it does take more time, I feel it is important to actually speak with references to get a better sense of how they truly feel about the person I’m considering. I generally ask for three types of references for each candidate…

  • Academic (e.g. teacher, principal, guidance counsellor, etc.)
  • Employment (e.g.  current or previous employer, manager, etc.)
  • Community Member (e.g. religious leader, volunteer organization, long-term friend of prospective employee’s parents, etc.)

10. Do you have any other questions?

If someone doesn’t have a single question to ask, I find it to be a bit off-putting. I’m generally looking for people who are outgoing, have something to say and are naturally curious. Hearing an intelligent question shows me that there is genuine interest as well.

Did I Just Tip My Hand?

Am I showing my hand too much by posting what’s pretty much an outline of my typical job interview?

At first I must admit that I was hesitant to share these questions on the Internet as it would give a heads-up to those candidates who came across it, and could therefore give them an unfair advantage. But I then gave the matter some further consideration… those who did take the initiative to learn about me – their possible future employer – are showing initiative by Googling my name. I love keeners! If they’ve done their research, kudos to them. They deserve the heads-up and that’s the type of person I want working on our team!

So…. What questions do you ask when interviewing?


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Brenda Kosky Deskin

Written on June 5, 2013 by:

Brenda Kosky Deskin is the parent of a child with Autism and Founder and Editor of AutismBeacon.com, a one-of-a-kind website and online directory dedicated to providing vital resources and information to the international Autism community.
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