Get Your Child Ready for Work
By: Dale S. Brown
Someday your learning disabled child will have to find a job if he is to become self-supporting. Hopefully, this work will challenge him and contribute to the economy. It's hard for parents to focus on their child's future work when simply getting him an education is such a struggle. Yet, school years usually make up less than a third of his life. He will "make it or break it" according to his ability to work. And many people successful in the "real world" have failed in school.
In fact, one study showed that there is a possibility that people with dyslexia might be millionaires than people without dyslexia. See Are Dyslexia and Wealth Linked? Study Finds Individuals with Dyslexia More Likely to Be Millionaires.
- Develop the values and skills of a good worker.
- Avoid the common pitfalls of learning disabled youth.
- Learn job-related skills at home.
Teach your child to become a successful worker
Teach your child to feel good about work. As your child achieves in school, at play, and at home, praise him. Let him brag. When he produces something or finishes a task, encourage him to take a moment and feel pride. Inner pride in a job well done should become its own reward.
Make him a productive part of the household. Don't relegate him to traditional children's chores of washing dishes and taking out the garbage. Give him more challenging tasks, such as cooking simple meals, folding laundry, shopping, or helping with simple repairs. Ask him to do an Internet search for a family outing. Of course, be sure the jobs are not too difficult for him.
Show pride in your own job. Your children should understand that you are earning the money the family needs for survival. Let them know what you do. If possible, let them visit you. One cashier always has her husband bring the children shopping and is sure to ring up their groceries. A lawyer took his son to his office one weekend and showed his diplomas and awards. A political activist regularly takes his children to events he has organized. If a visit is impossible, bring home samples of what you do. Work should be a frequent topic of conversation in your house. Discuss your job at dinner and ask your children to talk about their daily achievements. Bring your own work home and do it while your child is doing homework.
Teach them that all work is important. No job is below them or above them, provided they find it challenging and can do it well. Point out other people working. Arrange for your family to tour a factory. As you pass a home or office being constructed, let them watch the builders. Also, let them be aware of the lawyers, doctors, teachers, plumbers, repair people and other workers the family contacts.
When you are inconvenienced by sloppy work, let your child know. For example, one father had to take his new car in to the shop to be repaired. The transmission was built in a shoddy way. "I don't even know the person who made it," he told his daughter, "but someone can put a screw in wrong, and now we can't use the car for a week." These relationships are not obvious to your child, because most of our goods are produced by strangers.
As you show your child the world of work, explain how what he learns in school will help him someday. For example, when you eat in a restaurant, show him how the waitress has to add up the check. Point out the cash registers, which require elementary math to operate. Point out the people on the bus who are reading papers or using laptop computers. Tell him that doctors, lawyers, policemen, and other professional workers have to go to school for a long time and usually need to be able to read.
Here are some areas where learning-disabled children need particular help:
Remediation of specific disabilities
Ameliorate their disabilities as much as possible. Provide therapy to help them see and hear more accurately, move efficiently, feel comfortable in their space, and use their minds in an organized way. Educational therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and other treatments may not immediately improve academic performance. But if the disabilities themselves become less severe, your child will have an easier future. Most therapies are more efficient at an early age. Although no one "outgrows" these disabilities, they can be overcome through hard work and help from others.
Help your child go as far as possible in school. Today, jobs require more and more credentials. You may help your child choose courses and prioritize homework according to the knowledge that is most necessary in the work world. For example, memorizing the times tables is more important than learning the capitals of each state. Computer literacy is essential. Get your child a computer if possible. If it is not possible, most libraries allow Internet access. Use technology to help your child do better in school. Take a look at the article On The Go: What Consumer Products Can Do For You (If You Know Where to Look!) to see how cellular phones and iPods can help your child with their academic work.
Difficulty with social skills is a symptom of learning disabilities for many children. Help your child interpret social situations and get along with others. LD Online has a large number of articles in its section on Behavior & Social Skills in LD Topics.
Time is important in the world of work. Many learning disabled children don't feel the passage of time in a normal way. Talk about the time of day in your conversations. Ask her if it's morning, afternoon, or evening. Give her ten minutes' warning before going somewhere and then give five minutes' warning. Ask her to tell you when half an hour is up so you know when to turn off the roast beef. Teach awareness of various rates of speed. When is she walking quickly? When is she walking slowly? As she grows older, have her take more responsibility for finishing tasks and getting to places on time. High school students should be able to awaken independently with an alarm clock. Getting to work on time is essential for almost every job.
Ability to get from home to work is important in most jobs. Encourage your child to use public transportation if it's available. Teach him to drive, but keep in mind that it takes many learning disabled people extra time and effort to learn. If there is no public transportation and your child cannot drive, consider moving to a location where your child can be independent.
Encouragement of abilities
The most important and most neglected areas for learning disabled children are their abilities. Help your child find his strengths. What is he really good at? What does he enjoy doing?
When you and your child find an interesting talent, support your child in developing it. Encourage her to feel inner pride about that talent. It's worth the same time and effort to encourage the strengths as it is to remediate the handicaps. For instance, one learning disabled boy became very interested in riding horses. His parents let him take riding lessons and helped him to enter horse shows. A learning disabled teenager was interested in science and electronics. The parent went to a local technical school and recruited a student to help their son develop a "robot" that he showed at the science fair. The match-up was successful, and the boy won an honorable mention.
Some parents have encouraged their children to give speeches about overcoming their learning disabilities. Public recognition reinforces the strengths and helps your child develop social skills because people will reach out to a successful girl or boy.
In short, there are three important steps to helping children get ready for work. First, teach them about the working world and the skills they will need there. Second, help them overcome any areas of weakness that are presented by their learning disabilities. And third, encourage their strengths, for it is their strengths that they will use for their future occupation.
About the author
Dale S. Brown is the Senior Manager of LD OnLine. She is a nationally recognized expert on learning disabilities who has written four books on learning disabilities. She received the Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award for her work as an advocate for people with learning disabilities.
Brown, D., "Get Your Child Ready for Work," Newsbriefs, Learning Disabilities Association of America, September-October, 1988 © Dale S. Brown. Newly updated for LD OnLine.