Preparing for Employment at an Early Age

Employment - For many people, their jobs are an essential part of their living. Jobs can be interesting, boring or somewhere in between. Jobs can speak about our interests and passions or can just be a means to an end (paycheck). My personal experience with employment has been a grab bag of both passion and necessity, alternating between non-profits (passion) and retail (necessity). BUT, I like to think that everything I’ve done in the past has prepared me for where I am today.

But what about those with disabilities? Statistics aren’t great. An article by Fortune Magazine in 2017, states that “Only 35% of U.S. civilians with disabilities between the ages 18 and 64 had a job in 2015, compared to 76% for people without disabilities”, according to a report from RespectAbility, an advocacy group for Americans with disabilities. Reports from studies done through Special Olympics, for those specifically with intellectual and developmental disabilities are similar, with an approximate employment rate of half the general population. My personal experience working with several organizations and agencies has proven these statistics to be true. Employment can be a tough nut to crack.

So many factors come into place, including preparing the individual for an employment setting, and the opportunity to have a chance at a job. Although impacting vocational opportunities might take a bigger village voice, we as parents can do what we can to help prepare Caleb personally. Whether it was because we were “older” parents with grown children, or my interactions with teens and young adults with IDDs (or both), we decided early on that we would start working with Caleb on a number of things to get him prepared for employment.

As I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, chores and daily activities help set the stage for employment by encouraging independence and “soft skills”. Soft skills can include many things – social appropriateness, communication, personal habits, ability to follow directions, interpersonal skills, teamwork, self-regulation, and more. Getting out and getting engaged in the community can be a great help in developing soft skills. It can be a lot of work on the parent’s end, for sure, but the payoff can be enormous. You can practice these skills at home, at school, with friends.

Another factor that can be so very important is interests! What does your child like to do? What things are he/she interested in? Do they like digging in the dirt? Trains? Cars? Playing with dolls? Legos? IMO, it’s never too early to start noticing those things and start the wheels turning in your mind about employment opportunities. Start thinking and exploring all those fields that might correlate to your child’s interests.

Caleb is ten years old. He’s shown interests in several things already, and our wheels are turning. He loves to help around the house. He’s very task-oriented and will work to see something completed. So how to turn that into employment? I look at perhaps an office job, where he has daily tasks and has a checklist. He also loves to be around people and entertain. Probably more of a hobby, but theater might be an option. He loves cooking! He has a blast in the kitchen, helping to make meals and desserts. He takes direction well and has a strong interest in seeing the finished product. #cookingwithCaleb might be just the thing for him. He loves to be outside in the yard, so perhaps working at a lawn-care service, or somewhere such as Home Depot’s garden department. He loves sports! Although he might not ever be a professional athlete (but then again, who knows!), he might work for one of the many sports teams we have here in Jacksonville, working with equipment or some other aspect of the team’s support system.

As times have changed over the past ten years, there has also been a huge increase in helping people with unique needs get training, skills and knowledge to be better prepared. Caleb’s school has a focus on post-education goals. There are other self-advocacy organizations here in FL to help as well. Florida SANDS (Self-Advocate Network D)  works to help individuals with issues and services. At their recent conference, a new curriculum was presented to help students explore their own likes and interests. The Explore Work Curriculum provides a “chance for people with all kinds of disabilities to think about what kind of work they might like to do and to explore employment options.” Short videos and questionnaires have been developed for young people to think about their interests, what accommodations they might need, and build confidence and self-assurance.

Post-secondary options are increasing dramatically as well. Visit the Think College website to see what’s out there in your area, what might be coming, training's and resources (and a shout out to Ruby’s Rainbow featured there too!) Entrepreneurial options are increasing as well. Examples like Blake’s Snow Shack, John’s Crazy Socks and Seanese  are all proof that self-employment might be worth looking at.

Starting young to develop good personal habits and interactions can never be a bad thing. As many of us parents have discovered, some of our kids need a bit longer learning curve to get to the end result. The good news is that options and opportunities are increasing. Helping your child become more independent can help lead to bigger things than just getting the laundry done 😊



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