Future Reflections                                                                       Spring/Summer 2003

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Growing Up and Going to Work: Preparing for the Workplace Begins at Home

Reprinted from the Summer, 2001, issue of the Pacesetter, a publication of the Pacer Center, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, under the title “Preparing for the Workplace Pays.” The article is an excerpt from When I Grow Up, I Am Going to Work, a PACER Center Project Youth book for children; Diane Hovey, project coordinator, and Caryn Pernu, editor. The booklet may be purchased from the PACER Center at $8 per copy ($6 for 10 or more). For more information contact the PACER Center at 8161 Normandale Blvd., Bloomington, MN 55437-1044; (952) 838-9000 voice; (952) 838-0190 TTY; (952) 838-0199 fax; www.PACER.org

Editor’s Note: This is a companion piece to the article, “Of Jobs, and Jobs” by Patty Chang. I think the connection will be obvious after you read them. Here is the excerpt from When I Grow Up:

Parents may feel mixed emotions about the child with disabilities growing up and going to work. They may share the child’s excitement about future possibilities, but they may also worry about the child’s vulnerability of possible failure at a job. Helping children develop job skills is one of the biggest gifts parents can give because it enriches children’s sense of self and builds potential for their future.

How can parents assist their young children to become ready for work? Here are some helpful ideas:

1. Teach social skills

More people lose jobs because of personality conflicts and the inability to work with other people than for any other reason. Providing children with opportunities for social interaction is very important. Preschool groups, religious groups, scouting groups, and community recreation programs are examples of good places to learn social skills.

2. Give children specific chores

Parents can help their children choose chores they can do with little assistance. Even children who have physical limitations that require assistance can still be given chores. For instance, the tray on a wheelchair can be used to deliver dishes to the table or folded laundry to the correct room. Occupational therapists can provide assistance if adaptations are needed to accomplish the chore. Not only will children be proud of their work, but they will also be contributing to the needs of the family.

3. Provide daily opportunities for children to make choices

Parents can start by asking children to make simple and familiar choices such as what to wear or what to eat. They must be sure the choices are ones their children are able to make and be careful to avoid offering options that are not possibilities. At first, parents can limit options by offering children a choice between two items. Later, the number of options can increase as children develop skills.

4. Teach communications skills

Children need to learn communications skills, as well as how to express feelings in a socially acceptable way, take criticism without becoming outwardly upset or angry, cooperate with others, ask for help when needed, and ask for more work once initial tasks are complete. Role playing can be an effective tool in learning communication skills.

5. Help children identify interests

Parents can provide opportunities for a variety of activities so children can explore different interests. Hobbies are an enjoyable way to learn skills and can lead to job opportunities. Children who like sports, for example, may eventually work in a sports store or at a camp.

6. Keep a notebook

Parents can keep a list of their children’s interests and the places where they seem most comfortable. Parents can also note their children’s skills and strengths and what motivates them to follow through on their tasks. In this way, parents learn more about their children and also better see the progress their children make.

7. Help children to be punctual

Parents can teach their children to set an alarm clock and wake up on time for school. Children can learn to prepare for the next day by laying out their clothes the night before. Parents can assist their children in calling if they cannot attend an activity.

8. Allow children to experience natural consequences

Parents often want to shelter their children from any pain or sadness, but this is a natural part of life for children with disabilities as well. When children make a choice and it turns out to be a bad decision, parents can provide the opportunity for their children to learn about natural consequences. Everyone learns from mistakes. Parents can be there to support their children but let them make mistakes and learn from them.

9. Talk to children about jobs

Parents can talk to their children about different jobs. They can point out what people are doing in their jobs and ask their children’s opinions about the tasks. Children can visit their parents’ workplaces and help.

10. Encourage volunteering

Volunteering can teach children much about what is expected at work without putting too much pressure on them. Volunteer experiences provide opportunities to learn job skills, meet new people, learn to communicate with people who are not used to being with people with disabilities, and learn to do a task in a certain time period and do it well. It is a great opportunity for career exploration.

11. Promote self-advocacy

By providing choice and opportunity and teaching decision-making skills, parents are helping their children build a foundation for self-advocacy. Parents can teach their children about their disabilities and how to communicate their needs. They can provide opportunities for their children to express their thoughts and opinions and exercise control over their environment. Later in the workplace, these skills will assist young adults in asking for what they need, especially for any special equipment or necessary changes to the workplace that will help them better do their jobs.

Starting early in preparing children for work will ensure they have better opportunities to be successful in their employment. Most importantly, parents can expect that their children will grow up to work, and they can help their children build dreams.

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