People often ask young children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Very young children will typically respond with something like football player, firefighter, doctor or princess. Their list of options is limited by their experience, or lack thereof. They see athletes on television; visit doctors and nurses in their offices; community helpers are introduced in preschool and kindergarten; and there is no shortage of princesses in storybooks and children’s movies. The odds are very against children ending up in the jobs that they talked about when they were 5 or 7 years old. However, there are things that we can do to expose children to many more of the hundreds of the different types of jobs and careers that are out there.
Children come into contact with people who work in a wide variety of careers, but they just don’t know what the job titles or responsibilities are. Parents and other adults can take advantage of natural opportunities to help children learn more about the world of work. A routine visit to the grocery store could lead to discussion about the work of anyone, from the obvious cashier and stock person to the baker, meat cutter or store manager. It’s hard to not see people who drive trucks, buses, and taxis for a living. If you are lucky enough to live in NASCAR country there might even be a chance to watch race car drivers and their crews take driving to the extreme!
A trip through an airport also offers almost endless possibilities for talking about the different kinds of work that people do to help passengers and make air travel happen. Some manufacturers will schedule tours through their plants so that visitors can see how things are made. This might be possible with some power or water-processing plants. Art festivals offer a chance to look at many types of creative occupations. You might see sculptors, painters, photographers, glass blowers, potters, quilters and jewelry makers.
Just like kids gradually increase their vocabulary to go from calling all canines “dog” to recognizing and naming several breeds of dogs, we can help them become more specific in their understanding of some professions over time. You can help interested children and youth learn about the different specialties that lawyers and doctors practice. And just think about all of the different occupations that make hospitals work!
The opportunities to explore jobs are all around us. We just need to use them to help our children learn more about their world and the role that they may want to play in it when they become adults. Not everyone is going to become a firefighter who save lives and homes. Some people will have jobs of designing, building, inspecting and maintaining those homes, and so on…. So many choices!
I just had a conversation with a parent whose son was nearing the end of his high school career. At some point, I passed along a tip to her that I was given when my daughter was approaching her last year in high school. It came from a counselor with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) who was manning a table next to the ECAC exhibit at a school system’s “Transition Fair”, where parents of children with disabilities learned about various adult services, organizations and agencies.
VR, or “Voc Rehab” provides a wide variety of services to individuals who have disabilities, all with the ultimate goal of helping them find employment. VR services include vocational assessments, career guidance and counseling, work adjustment services, employment-seeking skills training, job coaching, on-the-job training, internships, supported employment services, job placement, financial assistance with post-secondary education and training programs, etc.
A person has to apply for VR services and meet established eligibility criteria. If eligible, an individual plan is developed to help the person meet their employment goal. The specific services that are offered to an individual will be determined by his or her work plan.
- You can start the process during the summer, before the counselors get bombarded with referrals from the schools. The counselors can take more time with each applicant and perhaps offer a higher quality service when their load is a little lighter.
- You can start the process earlier in the student’s school career. Some students are not referred until the last semester of their last year in school, which does not allow much time for VR to contribute to the transition to adulthood process.
- You can make sure that the referral happens. Every now and then, the ball gets dropped and the VR referrals don’t get made at all. This may be more likely to happen with higher-functioning students and those with a Section 504 Accommodation Plan rather than an IEP. Note: VR’s eligibility criteria is different than those associated with special education.
The summer may also be a good time to look into other adult services and post-secondary programs. Even though schools have a responsibility for transition under IDEA, parents will always play a key role in making sure that their children (even as adults) get what they need. So, take the lead and get things moving!