Can I Get a Job?

This post originally appeared on the OAR blog.

I have heard students ask, “Can I get a job?” I have heard parents ask: “Can my child work one day?”

The answer is “Yes, you can.”

However, when a person has a disability it is not that simple. There are significant things to consider. Let’s talk about a real person, whose name has been changed. We will call him “Herman.”

What matters?

What can Herman realistically do to earn a living? We all need to feel important and that what we do matters. However, we also do not want to frustrate Herman and put him in a situation that will cause more pain and grief than gains.

We can:

Conduct tests to find out where his strengths and weaknesses are now (this changes with time). This can be done though schools (high schools may offer this, some colleges offer this too and maybe through Department of Rehabilitation Services).

Herman may qualify for a job coach. A job coach can:

  • Be a huge help in communicating with employers
  • Build a bridge between Herman and his new boss
  • Be a support to the family in this transition too

Herman may need:

  • Support to get to work
  • Support to talk and communicate with the boss as well as others on the job
  • A check list
  • Clear directions
  • To be shown (not just told) how to do the work
  • To know his work matters (especially if is work like cleaning and doing trash pick up)
  • To learn more communication skills
  • Ongoing assessments of his work

Herman will need to be heard and understood in a variety of scenarios.

Now that Herman is working, he may also need:

Herman may need to find a way to have fun out of work. He may need someone to check on his eating habits and sleeping patterns with the new change of working in his life.

Yes, Herman can work and likely really wants to work, however, it is not always easy for him or those who care about him and love him. Herman and his family need support and encouragement.

What matters in getting a job is that it is not only a good fit on the outside but that the person feels safe and secure inwardly too. Naturally, we need to be sure the job is reasonable, can be done and the accommodations/help are present. We also need to be sure they are actually happening. Sometimes, good intentions do not actually translate to good follow up.

Something we learned the hard way was that the employer, with good intentions, spoke to Herman and said, “We are a family here. Now you are part of the family.” Herman bought into that  with a bit of hesitancy, but he did accept that idea. Later when Herman became anxious due to lack of supervision, he decided he needed to leave the job. The “family” idea was difficult for him. It is far better to call the group a “team” not a “family” so that there is no confusion and less emotional pain when it ends. Even if it ends on a good note, it can be very confusing.

Yes, most people can work, given the right set up and support. Please stay alert to all the needs of the people involved so that each work encounter can be a success, even if it is one day at a time.


About the Author
Hello, my name is Wendy Swenson. I am a mother of three grown children and a grandmother, too. One of my children came to me by way of adoption. He is currently 32 years of age and has high-functioning autism. His life has been a miracle. I will tell you more about him in time. I work full-time as a school social worker and am a licensed clinical social worker. I have also authored six books on The 5 Needs we all share in life. I earned my Masters in Social Work from Southern University at New Orleans, where I grew up. My son and I moved to Virginia in order to receive better services for him in 2001. He is working part time now and has a wonderful job coach.

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