Helping Students with Cognitive Disabilities Find and Keep a Job
This Technical Assistance Guide is written for those involved in helping students with cognitive disabilities or autism find and keep a job. This includes parents, family members, teachers, transition specialists, job development specialists, employers, and others. This guide talks about the processes involved in finding and keeping employment; it is not intended as a guide to the laws and policies associated with transition planning. The guide comes with an audiotape called A Student's Guide to Jobs. A booklet for students is available separately.
On the audiotape you will hear the stories of several young people with cognitive disabilities, with autism, or with multiple disabilities. You will also hear from their parents and their employers. They will talk about the challenges these young people are facing on the job and the successes they have had. NICHCY hopes that you'll find their stories interesting, enlightening, and useful as you become more involved in helping young adults with cognitive disabilities look for jobs and succeed in the world of work.
This Technical Assistance Guide will help you:
- learn more about employment for individuals with mental retardation, with autism, or with multiple disabilities;
- understand who may be involved in helping the young person find and keep a job and how they are involved;
- develop an awareness of the job accommodations helpful to people with cognitive disabilities with autism, or with multiple disabilities;
- learn how you can support the young person in his or her job search and retention; and
- find helpful resources at the national, state, and local levels
"I think parents need to be optimistic with regard to what their kids can contribute to the business environment. There is such a demand for good workers that you can take a child who has a disability, who is willing to work, and his willingness to work in the long run will outweigh the disability to the employer, when you find the right employer."
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Having a job can be exciting, fun, hard work, scary, and full of new skills to learn and master. This is as true for young people with cognitive disabilities as it is for those with other disabilities or no disabilities at all. In the past, many people with disabilities didn't have jobs. This was especially true for people with cognitive disabilities and those with autism. Today, fortunately, the employment prospects for such individuals are changing (President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 1997). Young people with these disabilities are learning important skills in school and on the job. These skills are proving useful to employers, and so are the other talents that people with disabilities bring to the workplace.
How do typical young people become employed? Most look in the help wanted ads or find out about job openings from friends or relatives. They may go to an interview, give their resume to the prospective employer, and, if all goes well and they have the skills necessary, they get the job.
Youth with disabilities sometimes follow this path, but more often they need help in finding a job. The amount of help they need will depend on a number of factors, including:
- the job market at the time;
- what type of job they're interested in,
- how much training the job requires,
- how much training they themselves have, and
- what type of disability they have.
For youth with cognitive limitations, special employment challenges exist, so they are likely to need extensive support in finding and keeping a job.
What kinds of jobs are out there for these young people? The section below takes a look at the types of employment opportunities available for young men and women with significant disabilities such as a cognitive disability or autism. These include: competitive employment, supported employment, and segregated employment.
Competitive employment means a full-time or part-time job with competitive wages and responsibilities. Typically, competitive employment means that no long-term support is provided to the employee to help him or her learn the job or continue to perform the job. This lack of ongoing or long-term support is one aspect that distinguishes competitive employment from both supported employment and segregated employment (described below).
All sorts of jobs are considered competitive employment -- waiting on tables, cutting grass, fixing cars, and being a teacher, secretary, factory worker, file clerk, or computer programmer. The amount of education or training a person needs will vary depending on the type of job.
In supported employment, individuals with significant disabilities typically work in competitive jobs alongside and with individuals who do not have disabilities. One of the characteristics of supported employment is that the person receives ongoing support services while on the job. This support is often provided by a job coach who helps the person learn to do the job and understand the rules, conventions, and expectations of the job site. The support continues to be provided as long as the person holds the job, although the amount of support may be reduced over time as the person becomes able to do the job more independently (Association for Persons in Supported Employment, 1996; President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 1993).
Supported employment offers individuals with significant disabilities -- such as the young people featured on the audiotape that accompanies this guide -- the chance to earn wages in jobs where they work alongside their peers who do not have disabilities.
As the Association for Persons in Supported Employment (1996) observes, "Supported employment focuses on a person's abilities and provides the supports the individual needs to be successful on a long-term basis" (p. 1). To maximize the chances for success, it's important that the job and the work environment be a good match to the "known interests, skills, and support needs of the person with a disability" (PACER Center, 1998).
In segregated employment, individuals with disabilities work in a self-contained unit and are not integrated with workers without disabilities. This type of employment is generally supported by federal and/or state funds. The type of training that workers receive varies from program to program, as does the type of work they do. Some typical tasks include sewing, packaging, or collating.
In the past, segregated employment was thought to be the only option available for individuals with significant cognitive disabilities such as a cognitive disability or autism. Now it is clear that individuals with such disabilities can work in community settings when provided with adequate support. Nonetheless, segregated employment continues to be an option for many workers with cognitive disabilities.
"Imagine if you were sitting in a room, and you had just a couple of other people helping you think about what you were good at, and you say, the sky's the limit."
Learning for a Lifetime; Postsecondary Technical Training Options for Students with Disabilities
University of Oregon
Reprinted with the permission of the National Dissemination Center.
Washington Virtual Academies
Tuition-free online school for Washington students.
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