4 Ways to Help Your Child With Special Needs Find Meaningful Employment
My son Matt is living with a disability, and as he transitions from high school, he’s exploring what it means to be an adult. Matt, like so many people with disabilities, wants to contribute to society, and he’ll thrive in the right career.
As a parent, it’s my responsibility to help him find it.
But finding his right fit will require knocking on doors, embracing opportunities and keeping a positive outlook.
Last summer, Matt worked at a retail store specializing in secondhand clothing. Matt’s job was to sort the clothes appropriately, then tag them for sale. His work area, however, was in a dark corner of the back room. While the work was a breeze for Matt, it wasn’t helping him build any useful work or social skills. Isolation was draining him, so we decided to make a change.
Matt’s next job was bagging groceries at a local supermarket. As a parent, I was immediately unsure if the job would be a fit for him. First, Matt’s communication skills aren’t well developed. Second, it’s impossible to predict what a customer might buy, so there’s no single routine for sacking groceries. We were uncertain about the opening, but Matt wanted to try.
Matt excelled! He was an upbeat employee, and he was eager to learn. Matt’s manager even encouraged him to apply for a full-time job.
When starting to look into employment opportunities for your child with special needs, consider these tips:
1. Begin with household chores.
Household chores are an important bridge between childhood and work. Even if the tasks might be difficult for your child, chores teach work ethic, impart responsibility and can be a source of pride. Don’t set the bar too low — communicate expectations, and be willing to help if your child doesn’t succeed. Matt learned early to do things for himself; If he can’t complete a task, he asks for help.
2. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!
Help your son or daughter explore roles through volunteering. If your child can do it alone, that’s wonderful. If not, make it a family activity. Volunteering will help your child develop interests, identify strengths, and gain experience in an employment setting.
3. Take advantage of vocational training opportunities.
Young people with special needs might be offered vocational training opportunities through certain high school programs. A vocational training specialist can help your child identify interests and corresponding employment opportunities. What’s more, vocational training might open the door to a position with the employer who provided instruction.
4. Look for part-time work.
Part-time jobs are ideal building blocks toward a career — how many did you have? I had tons: Some were awful, some were fun. But each brought me a step closer to forging my own career path. Work experience is a critical part of your child’s development. Employers consistently say this “experience gap” is a significant obstacle to hiring people with disabilities.
Where are the career opportunities?
Finding the right fit takes time, so patience and diligence are important during the job-seeking stage.
First, talk to everyone. Most job opportunities come from personal connections, so ask around about opportunities. The host of a training workshop may offer employment opportunities with local businesses. Contact all state and city disability resources. Contact every agency that supports employment for people with disabilities. Great jobs are rarely advertised, so talk to everyone and follow up.
Find leads where you shop, bank, donate, etc. Ask those businesses if openings exist that might fit your teenager’s abilities and interests. Look for businesses with a diverse workforce; tell management you notice and appreciate their inclusivity. This reinforces the practice of hiring people with disabilities.
Research organizations that employ people with disabilities. A workplace with strong support systems will be committed to supporting people with disabilities and flexible with roles and job responsibilities. Generally, if an organization has had success with employees in this population, they’ll hire again.
Prepare your child for the working world
Once your child has found a fitting job, it’s time to think like the employer: Your child must dress appropriately, show up on time and be flexible. Keep an open dialogue with the employer; he wants the job to work out as much as you do.
What if it just doesn’t work out? That’s a risk inherent to any employment. There are always other jobs, so realize every job is a learning experience and move on. The risk is worth it to find the right career for your child.
In the end, Matt wants exactly what every other person his age wants: to find himself, to grow, to contribute to society, and to be proud of his work.