“Why do you work?” I asked one of my daughters. She is one year younger than my daughter who has an intellectual and developmental disability. “For money!” she replied. Although this sentiment spells it out for many of us, for my daughter, who has a disability, employment has a different meaning than it does for her sisters. For her, we consider volunteering and job sampling as employment, although she’s not always receiving a wage in exchange for her time.
One of my daughter’s jobs was volunteering at a local animal shelter. In the process of choosing where to volunteer, she was an active participant in deciding where to offer her time. The shelter was an ideal environment because of her love for animals, specifically dogs.
Working at the animal shelter gave her a sense of pride and helped her emotionally. Caring for the dogs soothed an emotional need. In addition to fulfilling her likes and interests, she gained valuable job skills while volunteering, like learning about the importance of punctuality.
My daughter took part in job sampling with support from her team at her high school. Job sampling provides students with the experience of working at a job within the school setting Along with her peers, she worked in the kitchen at a hotel. In the same type of setting, she worked in the laundry room. Though this isn’t something she would have chosen, these opportunities gave her a deep sense of self-worth. She felt important! She also learned how to play a cooperative role on a larger team.
With support from a few school team members, she got her first paid job opportunity at a locally owned pizza restaurant. Her teacher knew the owners and they graciously welcomed her on board. However, it wasn’t long before she was fired.
I won’t go into the specifics, but it had to do with lacking certain social skills and boundaries. My daughter was heartbroken, and frankly, I was too. From that experience, though, we learned several things about the type of workplace she needed to succeed. We learned that she needed a small environment without many distractions, a job where she could take more breaks, and a staff with time to help her with the soft skills many of us take for granted.
My daughter had always voiced a desire to work in the food industry. With support from the employment specialist at school and the job coach, she was employed at a fast-food chain. She worked there for five years. The job lasted because we found a place that wanted her there. They created a position for her and supplied the support she needed to succeed.
Her place of work wasn’t far from our home. And she used public transportation to get to and from work. After she graduated and the support from school was no longer available, she gained employment support through the Texas Workforce Commission.
Our children with disabilities have many of the same desires as any child. They want to be a part of something, to contribute to society, to have a sense of independence, friendships, and of course, money.
These are all meaningful benefits my daughter gained during her years of work through volunteering, job sampling and paid employment. Find more information about employment options for your young adult.
My daughter is 27 years old. She has Down Syndrome and intellectual and developmental disabilities. I obtained guardianship for her just last year. Here’s how and why our family decided to shift from the least restrictive legal guardian option to the most restrictive option.
Categories: Transition to Adulthood
Listening and learning from adults with disabilities helped me learn so much about my son and his future.