Seven Pre-Employment Skills for Children with Complex Needs

So, you want your child to find a job. There’s no time to lose, so let’s get started! Ideally, you’re reading this well before you and your teenager approach the job market with hopeful consideration, as pre-employment skills are best taught early in the game. However, don’t stress if you’re reading this as the parent of a teen with current employment aspirations – you’re still in the right spot, and you can do this! Either way, give yourself and your child plenty of grace and time to address the prerequisite skills they need to establish before stepping foot into that first interview. 

By the time your child is 16, they should receive Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) from the public school system, but there’s no need to wait until your child is 16 to begin teaching skills that will help them prepare for employment! You can begin working on pre-employment skills at home with young children and partner with your child’s school to ensure appropriate skills are on their IEP. 

As you may know, purposeful, early exposure and deliberate, repetitive instruction are so very important to the learning process of young people who are blind or low vision. This is equally, if not more, important for our children with multiple disabilities.  

Whatever the topic, skill, or concept, direct instruction and repetition are crucial to successful learning and growing your child’s pre-employment skills.  

People with disabilities experience unique challenges in the job market. We’re here to help you navigate a few of those challenges your child who is blind or low vision with multiple disabilities may face and hopefully set your child up for a successful and fulfilling employment experience.  

A Place to Start 

Your child’s job search starts well before they complete their first application process. It starts with job awareness, which can be built into daily life from a young age.  

  • Read to or with your child about different jobs and careers.  
  • Use dinnertime or other “down” time to share about your own job and career experiences. Describe your day-to-day responsibilities in an age-appropriate fashion and use those teachable moments to build new concepts for your little future employee.  
  • Consider your child’s interests and abilities. Offer suggestions of jobs that may interest them and help consider appropriate accommodations they may need.  
  • Assess your child’s current skills related to potential job needs and basic pre-employment skills. This can help you determine where to start. Petition the help of your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) in determining the best order and pacing of skills – you’re not alone! 
  • Assign daily and weekly chores. There are many age- and skill-appropriate options, and all have multi-faceted benefits. Aside from building their self-determination and sense of confidence in their abilities, chores are their first job experience. Praise them for a well-done job, and don’t be afraid to address areas that could use (and will inevitably need) some improvement. Use those teachable moments as they arise! 

Seven Pre-Employment Skills to Set Your Student Up for Success 

1 – Dressing and Self-Care 

  • Tending to personal hygiene needs is a crucial skill for your youngster to work on from a young age. In addition to the increase in independence it offers them, it also gives a great first impression to employers and co-workers.  
  • Teach your child how to care for their personal needs at home and in the most independent way possible. Accomplishing tasks such as making the bed, getting dressed, and doing laundry, can promote direction-following skills, good task orientation, general responsibility, and increased confidence in their abilities! 
  • As your teen prepares to enter the workforce, provide instruction on the difference between professional or work attire versus casual, everyday clothes. This knowledge, implemented correctly, can go a long way toward the ultimate success of the job hunt.  

2 – Communication  

  • Ensure your child or teen understands their disability, strengths, and limitations. Teach them how to articulate their needs and required accommodations. Then they will be ready to communicate effectively with a prospective employer about specific accommodations they may need to perform their best when the time comes. 
  • You can encourage your youngster to speak for themselves by requiring that they order their meal at a restaurant, help schedule appointments over the phone, or speak directly to their doctor.   

3 – Social Skills 

  • A confident introduction can make all the difference in an interview and is an activity that naturally affords many practice opportunities! Teach your kiddo how to extend their hand for a handshake, if possible, to greet people.  Explain eye contact and what it communicates. Then teach your child to point their face in the direction of another’s voice if eye contact is not possible.  
  • Explain the difference between co-workers and supervisors and provide role-play opportunities to practice interacting with both types of people.  

4 – Problem-Solving Skills 

  • Every day is filled with opportunities to develop and hone problem-solving skills. The workday is no different. Allow your child to address problems in their life as they naturally occur. Provide strategies, concepts, and modeling to identify and process disruptions to their norm and develop a contingency plan to address the problem.  
  • From discovering a break in the sidewalk that they are traveling on to self-regulating emotions when things don’t go their way, problem-solving skills are needed on the regular and are rather important to one’s growing independence. 

5 – Time Management 

  • Familiarity with basic concepts of time – morning, afternoon, evening, night, the length of a minute, hour, day, etc. – are all important for your future worker. This underlying foundation can help your child understand how long they are expected to perform on the job.  
  • Help your teen set a regular morning alarm clock on their watch, smartphone, or electronic device. This can expand into alarms for all activities, eventually leading to keeping track of work break times and work day start and end times.   

6 – Money Management 

  • Money is a huge motivator for many hopeful teen employees (and, let’s be honest, for adults as well!). Once simple coin and bill identification skills have been mastered, more involved concepts related to work can be introduced. 
  • Earning, spending, taxes, pay periods, and banking are just a few of the many financial concepts your young adult will need to begin to understand on some level. As you can see, early (young) head-starts in this department are a great goal! 

7 – Travel / Orientation Skills 

  • How are your child’s general orientation skills? Can they successfully navigate a planned route? What about a spontaneous route through a familiar room, if needed?  
  • You may likely plan on providing your new employee-to-be with transportation to and from their place of work, and that may be the best option for you both in the beginning. However, don’t neglect to teach your child about alternate options, and strive to work yourself out of your chauffeur job, if possible.  
  • Travel needs may arise before, during, and after a work shift, so checking in with your child’s O&M (Orientation & Mobility) instructor is a great place to start. 

Pulling It All Together 

Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more. The more time and practice afforded your child as they develop and hone their employment readiness skills, the more confident and proficient they will likely become. Repetition is their friend, so help them build it into their day in a fun and engaging ways. Role-play and set up simulations with a group of friends or family.  

As their confidence and skills grow, there are many ways to bridge the gap between at-home learning and true experience in the workplace. Hands-on experience in real places of employment is a crucial part of helping your child who is blind or low vision with multiple disabilities develop concepts of work and employment. Here are some options for gaining valuable work experience before that first application or interview: 

  • Schedule workplace tours in areas of potential interest. This may help weed out and narrow down the options your child wants to pursue.  
  • Look for volunteer opportunities in businesses that interest your budding job seeker. 
  • Plan days for your teen to job shadow a parent, family member, or friend.  
  • Ask about possible apprenticeships, which combine in-school and work-based learning. 
  • As the school year winds down, seek out summer work experience possibilities. 

Always remember, your student’s TVI & other educational team members are invaluable tools available to help and support you and your child through this transitional learning time. They can provide assessment, input, and consistent reinforcement at school and help determine necessary accommodations for your child’s unique abilities and needs.  

Keep Cheering Them On! 

Don’t get discouraged if reaching that first hire takes a little (or a lot) of time. The first job will come if they work towards it and have you and their educational team behind them. Until then, every interaction and attempt are incredible learning opportunities and provide your child or teen with more crucial repetition and practice. 

Remember, this pre-employment phase involves figuring out and supporting your future worker’s self-determination and employment goals. So, whether they’ve landed their first official position or are still searching for a satisfying line of work, stay positive, take advantage of teachable moments, get help when and where you need it, and most importantly…keep cheering them on!  

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