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Homeschooling: Special Needs
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July 2016 Newsletter

Getting Ready for Work



Life Prep by Barbara Frank
God at Work by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
Life Skills for Kids by Christine Field


By Krisa Winn
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

Here’s a sobering statistic: In the 2010 FINDS Survey by the ARC, only 15% of those who had a family member with intellectual and developmental disabilities reported them as being gainfully employed. Similarly, the National Core Indicators Study found that only around 18% of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities were employed in paid positions in the community. Of those who were not employed, 46% indicated that they wanted employment.

The encouraging news is that more companies are beginning to recruit individuals with disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum. Employers recognize that employees with special needs often have less absenteeism, are often more willing to work at jobs requiring sameness—what others may deem monotonous—and are more likely to stick with the job, resulting in less turnover for the employer.

In light of these trends, the question arises: What actions can you take now, as a homeschool parent, to help your son or daughter beat the odds and prepare for employment?

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting in on a panel that discussed finding employment for students who have disabilities. The panel was comprised of:

I was eager to hear what these experienced professionals had to say, as we get a lot of calls from members who are looking for ways to transition their students from home to more independent living after high school. Although I still don’t have all of the answers, I came away with some helpful tips that I’d like to share with you.

Assess Your Child’s Interests

This is something that we talk about a lot in the homeschool community. Homeschooling offers an opportunity not only to discover but also to nurture your child’s interests, gifts, and passions. One of the best ways to determine your child’s interests is to listen and watch. When I was in the classroom, it was hard to really listen to my students. My attention was often divided, and I seldom had the opportunity to listen in on or have “real conversations” with my students.

The homeschool setting affords these experiences. Slowing down and listening to what my child has to say, instead of assuming that I know what she will say before she even says it, has been revealing. She is still quite young, but even now I have some clues as to what path her future may take.

Another way to assess interests is to look at the things your child is good at doing. Do you have one child who makes the best scrambled eggs ever, or a child who is your go-to person when something is lost because he or she is great at attending to details? These simple strengths may one day open the door for an employment opportunity.

Dianna Waring (of Dianna Waring Presents) takes this idea a step further. She recently posted a video called “Awkward Kids, AMAZING Adults!” In this short video, Dianna talks about the connection between what we do naturally and awkwardly as children—such as talking too much, moving too much, and making messes—and what those same characteristics look like once we’ve grown into them as adults.

Diana wonders if Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful television hosts of all time, may have “talked too much in class,” or if Mikhail Baryshnikov, the iconic ballet dancer, couldn’t sit still as a child. Is there a persistent characteristic about your child that seems like a negative now? God could be cultivating that into an asset for later in life.

Create the Expectation

Ellen Graham, one of the contributors on the panel I mentioned before, encouraged parents to make the idea of obtaining and keeping a job an ongoing dialog between them and their children. In Ellen’s home, the expectation was that “everyone would have a job.”

You can begin working at this when your child is still very young, in very subtle yet powerful ways. Simply say things like, “Look at you, coming up with a new way to solve that problem! That will be a fantastic skill to have when you get a job one day.” Of course, as the child grows, the conversation will grow as well.

Look for a Fit

Ellen also cautioned parents about steering their children into employment or training opportunities that were fantastic in every way except for one—the prospective employee didn’t like it. The panelists felt that parents often set their children up to fail by trying to make them fit into a role that really “isn’t them.”

Do they have the physical stamina to stay on their feet for several hours as required by a food service industry job? Do they thrive when interacting with others? Perhaps retail is meant for them. Do they enjoy working with their hands and being outdoors? Think landscaping, or building. Do they like predictability? Maybe spreadsheets and data are their bent. The panel’s encouragement was, “Your son and daughter will be more likely to succeed if it’s something they like doing.”

Some Practical Applications

  1. One thing that you can do to get your student off to a good start with a prospective employer is to teach him or her a proper handshake. Teach your student the correct hand to use, and the proper grip. No one enjoys being greeted with a limp handshake. Approaching someone with a smile, a direct look in the eye, and a firm grip communicates confidence and ease with people.
  2. Good hygiene is important for one’s personal well-being, but it also plays an important role when you are working with others in an employment situation. According to one of the panelists, having clean and neat fingernails is huge! There are many good resources available to help young adults with intellectual disabilities learn about personal hygiene and grooming. Apps, social stories, and instructional videos are popular options for teaching these skills.
  3. Apps and videos are also useful to help develop communication skills. Consumers are looking for great customer service and pleasant experiences when they interact with businesses. Therefore, having a good understanding of non-verbal communication (tone, body language, etc.) and proper etiquette is important. On the other end of the communication spectrum is articulation. If your student’s articulation is weak, that doesn’t have to limit his employability. Technology makes it possible for people to communicate without having to actually speak at all. Sometimes, doing things the “old fashioned way” still works well, too . For instance, I was recently at a national chain fabric store where a cheerful young lady worked the cash register. She had difficulty speaking, but greeted me warmly and checked out my purchases with ease. At the end of the transaction, she held up a card asking if I wanted to sign up for a special program. I declined, but the offer was communicated effectively without the use of oral language.
  4. That leads me to another thing I gleaned from the panel: Teach your children to communicate their weak areas without wearing their disability “like a badge.” I suspect that the young lady I encountered was able to do just that. Like most of us, she was probably hired because she had a good handle on her strengths as well as her weaknesses and felt comfortable acknowledging areas where she might need extra support or guidance in order to be successful.
  5. Many of the panelists encouraged parents to get their students involved in volunteer opportunities. Volunteering broadens experience, gives insight into a prospective employee’s interests, and is a safe environment to learn new skills. In addition, volunteer opportunities can be used to develop a résumé. When a prospective employer sees a background in volunteering, it speaks to the student’s ability to be consistent and dependable. You can search for internships/volunteer opportunities using the internet, networking with friends and family, or by checking out community service boards.
  6. There are a variety of job preparation programs available for students. For instance, a charitable organization in our area, The Arc Montgomery County, has implemented a pilot program under the direction of Donna King, called the Transitioning Youth Retail Program. This program offers classroom training, on-the-job practice, and internships with participating retailers. Another great resource, Do2Learn, has a program called JobTIPS. There is a student version that you can explore for free. And as an HSLDA member, you can rent the Brigance Transitions Skills Inventory, which will help you assess your student’s interests and abilities that relate to transitioning from school to more independent living and employability. For more information about renting the Brigance, click here.
  7. To find job opportunities, the panel suggested using the internet to search for businesses that employ people with disabilities. Although it is still in its beginning stage and is mostly regional, Hire Autism has a résumé builder and will eventually match job seekers with job providers in various locations. As I mentioned before, networking with friends and family is another way to discover what may be available. I have spoken to families who have reported that their son or daughter was able to secure employment after proving themselves as a faithful volunteer—another good reason to volunteer!

In conclusion, know that God has a good plan for your child as he or she transitions into life after high school. It is my hope that these insights and tips will inspire hope and expectation for your child’s future.

Hear Faith Berens, HSLDA Special Needs Consultant and Andrew Pudewa at the Midwest Struggling Learners Conference, sponsored by Joy Quest and HSLDA, taking place in Indianapolis, IN on August 13, 2016!

For further information and to register, click here.

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