Young woman working with job coach

(From TennesseeWorks)

Work can be an important part of living well as an adult. The benefits of working are more than just financial. A good job promotes relationships, enhances independence, fosters feelings of accomplishment, and builds community connections. Yet, far too many people still do not see competitive work as a realistic option for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Raising expectations involves helping people catch and pursue a vision that everyone has strengths and talents to share in the workplace. It means setting and working toward employment as a post-school goal. And it means holding the conviction that with the right preparation and supports, every young person assuming competitive employment can find success on the job.

In every corner of our state, our expectation should be that young people with IDD will be supported to find and keep a good job in their community. Rather than asking Can this particular person work?, we should be asking, Where do you want to work?

Why Is Raising Expectations Important?

When you communicate high expectations about working from an early age, children and youth are apt to follow your lead. And so will others. Unfortunately, unemployment and underemployment are the status quo for people with IDD in our state. It takes parents, educators, providers and others expecting and demanding something different if outcomes are going to change. For example, research suggests the expectations of parents and educators can have a substantial impact on the employment outcomes of young people with IDD. Youth with IDD whose parents expected them to hold a job after graduation were 5 times more likely to have paid employment in their community shortly after graduation than youth whose parents did not hold similar expectations (Carter, Austin, & Trainor, 2012). Similarly, students whose teachers expected them to work during the upcoming summer were 15 times more likely to work than students whose teachers did not hold such expectations (Carter, Ditchman, et al., 2010). High expectations set the stage for competitive employment in adulthood.

How Can You Promote High Expectations?

Invest time talking with children and youth about what they want to do when they get older. Such conversations communicate that work is important and helps shape young people’s views about their future roles. Give children and youth responsibilities that build character and teach skills that will later translate into the workplace. At home, this might involve requiring children to do chores or assume other household responsibilities. At school, this might involve encouraging participation in clubs or other extracurricular activities.

Connecting young people to volunteer positions, service opportunities, internships, and part-time jobs are also wonderful ways to build expectations, as well as teach soft skills like timeliness, appropriate dress, communication, and social graces.  As young people participate in various school and community activities, they catch a glimpse of roles and responsibilities they enjoy (and prefer to avoid).

Where Can I Learn More About Raising Expectations?

The following links include guides, stories, and other resources related to fostering high expectations for employment among young people with intellectual disabilities:

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Ten Ways to Foster High Expectations for Work

  • Point out examples of different career opportunities when out in the community
  • Ask the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • Select reading material depicting a variety of careers and community activities
  • Discuss skills, abilities, interests, and values as youth select coursework, community, and extra-curricular activities
  • Encourage participation in local volunteering and other community service activities
  • Include career exploration activities in the classroom
  • Assign everyday household chores (e.g., making bed, laundry, dishes) or school responsibilities
  • Regularly prepare meals together
  • Help him or her develop a resume or one-page employment profile to be shared with others
  • Praise efforts rather than outcomes