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Getting Started (continued)

Success Story: Having Work Experience While Still in School Really Helps


Nicole tells us, "When I was in school I did many different kinds of jobs like working in the library, at Dave's Pet Food City, at The Kid's Place and Wingate Nursing Home. My favorite job that I did was working at The Kid's Place, which is a daycare for children. I was able to play with the kids and assist the teachers in taking care of the children. In my last year of school my employment service provider started working with me so that I could try different jobs to find out what I wanted to do when I got out of school. I continued to volunteer at The Kid's Place throughout my school year...I learned how to write up my resume and fill out applications... I went on many different interviews for many different jobs. I am still working at the first job where I was hired, pricing items, stocking shelves and dusting. I really love the people I work for there. My second job was at a pharmacy, stocking shelves, dusting shelves and some pricing. It wasn't my favorite job but I did it for one year until I finally had the opportunity to find a new second job in a daycare center. I work there 13 hours per week. It is a great job and I love working there with the kids."

"My husband and I are committed to teaching Nicole how to be independent. We hope that someday she will feel comfortable enough to venture out on her own with confidence and minimal supports, and have a life filled with choices and opportunity."

Outside of school, there are many ways to help your young adult develop employment-related skills and prepare for the world of work. Responsibilities and experiences at home and in the community can translate into job skills applied later in life.

What families can do:

  • Assign paid chores at home--not just everyday chores like setting the table, but the more occasional and larger responsibilities, like washing the car

  • Ask school staff about activities your young adult can do at home that mirror and reinforce skills being taught at school

  • Ask co-workers, relatives, and neighbors for ideas about where your young adult might volunteer or work

  • Reflect on ways that further education might support career goals

  • Involve your young adult in learning to use money as you bank, shop and pay for goods and services together

  • Introduce your young adult to community resources like the YMCA and the public library, then create opportunities for social interactions there

  • Support your son/daughter in learning how to plan trips on public transit and becoming more independent with taking public transportation

  • Look for times when your child can exercise leadership and build self-esteem, such as identifying and planning a weekend family outing

  • Encourage and nurture your young adult's hobbies and interests, which can lead to job-related interests and skills

  • Work with your DDS Service Coordinator to understand the choices for employment services and for day and support services in the area. (You will learn more about DDS Service Coordinators on page 13).Visit DDS-funded programs in your area and talk with staff members who provide these services. (Learn more about exploring employment service providers on page 13.)

  • Talk to former students and their families who have already made the transition from school to work

Success Story: Getting Started Early

Early parental involvement and advocacy can make a big difference in helping students acquire work experience. Mike is 18 years old, has autism, and has been determined eligible for DDS adult services. He lives in Boston where he and his family are active members of their local community center. When Mike was 14, his mom started thinking ahead about jobs that Mike might enjoy doing. Using the family's connections to the local community center, she suggested that Mike work as a volunteer, cleaning up the gym area, one day a week, after the "Toddler Time" program had ended. Mom helped Mike prepare for the job by taking photos to teach him about the tasks he would be doing. Four months later, delighted with Mike's performance, the center began paying Mike a $10 hourly rate and increased him to two days a week. His school now provides transportation to the job as well as a job coach, and one of his classmates took a similar job at the center. An early start, creative thinking, proactive community networking, and a strong belief in her son's capacity contributed to Mike flourishing on the job. Mike's mom wants other parents of children with significant communication and behavioral challenges to know "we are not doomed for disaster--there is a lot of hope--so much more potential than we give them credit for."

Success Story: Looking for Jobs in Your Own Backyard

In addition to Lindsay's paid job as a greeter at a concert hall, this busy 23 year-old holds several volunteer positions outside her home. One of her volunteer positions is with the neighborhood YMCA her family has been using for years; she is a familiar face there with staff and community members. This connection provided an ideal opportunity to inquire about different responsibilities Lindsay could take on at a place she knows well. As a result, Lindsay is at the Y three days per week, helping out with a variety of tasks. Lindsay's mother encourages other families to seek out work opportunities (paid and/or volunteer) for their young adults at places they typically frequent.

Success Story: Where There's a Will, There's a Way... Many Ways

Sherry Elander, a Special Education Teacher at the high school in Westfield, is proof positive of the many innovative ways school systems can help students successfully move from school to employment. Her motto "Begin with the end in mind" embodies her proactive approach. Sherry suggests combining a number of strategies for transition planning:

Person-centered planning, connections and networking

Sherry says, "We have had to get creative. We do person-centered planning with students, giving us the chance to look outside the box, see students from differing perspectives, and hear from people they have identified as wanting to help them achieve their dreams. Connections and networking have helped us maximize our resources."

Career planning and exploration

Actual job experiences in the community (such as job shadowing, structured internships) can make a huge difference. They expose students to the realities of a job; some learn that the job they thought they wanted is not well-suited to their interests or abilities. In such cases, students realize there is a mismatch without having someone else make the decision for them. Students may also identify new interests.

Teaching students self-advocacy skills

Sherry emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to speak up for themselves, to participate in IEP meetings, to develop Vision Statements, and clarify the accommodations they need.

School-to-family communication is vital

"When thinking about how the school should work with a family, I truly believe it is an equal partnership.... we must involve students as well as family at each step." Sherry stays connected to families by serving as school liaison to the Special Ed Advisory Council, facilitating planning meetings held in students' homes, visiting potential adult service employment providers with students and families, and hosting an annual pot-luck dinner to celebrate successes with families.

Monthly transition team meetings

Sherry gathers representatives from various state agencies and adult service providers to come together at monthly transition meetings to share opportunities and ideas. "Interagency involvement is the key that unlocks not only the door to post-graduate success, but to achieving one's dream."

Person-Centered Career Planning: What It Is and How It Can Help

Person-centered planning (PCP) is a process designed to assist an individual in planning for his/her future. Often it involves bringing together a group of people who know the individual well. They share their experiences and knowledge of the individual to develop a more complete picture of him/her. This picture becomes the basis for developing an employment plan, controlled by the individual and based on his/her interests, needs and preferences. It is a process of brainstorming and exploration, and is useful in helping set direction and establishing concrete steps for moving ahead. Consult the Resource Section for publications and links on the topic.