Identifying employment strengths and interests for teenagers with additional needs
As your child with disability, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other additional needs moves through the teenage years, you and your child might start to think about jobs and employment.
If you and your child aren’t sure what kind of work he could do, you could look at your child’s:
- interests – for example, your child might really like computer games, graphic design, maths or animals
- strengths – for example, your child might be really good at coding, talking to people or keeping things tidy.
It’s also a good idea to visit the careers adviser at your child’s school. This person can help your child identify strengths and interests.
When you understand your child’s strengths and interests, you’ve got a great basis for setting your child’s employment goals – what your child wants and hopes to do in her working life.
Finding a job might feel daunting for your child, but there are many agencies and services that specialise in helping people with additional needs prepare for and find work. Get links and contacts for these services in our guide to employment services and resources for teenagers with additional needs.
Setting employment goals for teenagers with additional needs
The first step is to work out your child’s long-term employment goals.
This is about understanding what work your child might like to do in the future. Your child’s employment goals might be quite specific – for example, he might want to work at the local supermarket, be a teacher or vet, or run a dog grooming business. Or his goals might be more general, like working in IT, with people or animals, or working outside.
Step two is helping your child break down long-term goals into short-term goals, like finding people who can help, writing a resume, signing up to a Disability Employment Service, going to university, getting further training, finding an apprenticeship and so on. Short-term goals can help your child achieve long-term goals. They can also make long-term goals seem less overwhelming.
These tips can help you with this process:
- Keep your child’s goals positive – for example, ‘I want to work in a garden’ rather than ‘I don’t want to be stuck inside’.
- Keep your child’s short-term goals realistic – for example, ‘I want to get a job helping at the local garden centre’ or ‘I’ll get some experience by gardening at home’, rather than ‘I want to be a head gardener’.
- Use visual aids to make your child’s list of goals more engaging. For example, a picture of your child weeding your garden could be a positive and helpful reminder of her goals.
- If your child doesn’t know what he wants to do, that’s OK. He could look for volunteer work or part-time work while he’s still at school to figure out what he’s interested in. For example, your child could join a volunteer bush regeneration program to find out whether he’s interested in gardening.
Finding people who can help teenagers with additional needs get jobs
A support network can help your child set employment goals and work towards them.
A support network for your child might include the following people:
- Mentor: a mentor can help by giving advice, being a role model, helping your child work out what she wants to do and so on. It’s great if you can find a mentor who understands additional needs. A mentor could be a family friend, a professional who works with your child, or someone from a disability support organisation.
- School teacher: if your child has a good connection with a teacher, this person can also be a mentor.
- Careers adviser: the careers adviser at your child’s school will be able to help your child set goals and work out what he needs to do to achieve them.
Skills, experience and qualifications for teenagers with additional needs
Your child’s short-term goals will probably include gaining skills, experience and qualifications for the job she wants. Or they could include developing communication skills, social skills and organisational skills for the workplace.
Your child can develop skills, experience and qualifications in several ways:
- a university or technical and further education (TAFE) course
- a vocational education and training (VET) course
- a training program run by a disability support agency
- a self-employment support service
- work experience, volunteer work or an internship
- a club or other organised activity to help your child build skills like teamwork, problem-solving and social skills
- support and advice from a mentor.
If your child applies for an internship or work experience, make sure it’s clear how long the internship will last. For ongoing work, it’s best to ask for a contract that allows a review at the end of an agreed time. This can stop an employer taking advantage of your child by not paying him for work in the longer term or by keeping him on as an intern when paid positions are available.
Resumés and job applications for teenagers with additional needs
Your child will need to write a resumé to apply for jobs. She’ll also need to write covering letters and applications.
You might need to help your child with his resumé and job applications. Your child’s careers adviser or a Disability Employment Service might also be able to help. Or you might know someone who hires people regularly. Perhaps they could help your child or give some feedback on your child’s resumé.
There are many online resources that can help your child with preparing a resume and writing job applications. The Australian Government’s Job Access site could be a good place to start. Its tips for creating a good resumé and writing job applications are tailored for people with additional needs.
Job interviews for teenagers with additional needs
Your child will probably go to job interviews. There are many things she can do to prepare:
- If your child has a particular communication style like typing rather than speaking, encourage him to find out whether he can use this style during interviews.
- Use role play at home to help your child practise non-verbal communication like handshakes, smiles and eye contact. These are all important aspects of job interviews.
- Set up mock interviews with people outside your immediate family to help your child practise talking to other people about her skills and experience. These people can give constructive feedback and help your child feel more comfortable. You could ask a family friend or the school careers adviser.
- Prepare and practise some standard responses to interview questions like ‘What are you good at?’, ‘What are your challenges?’ and ‘What contribution could you make to our organisation?’
- Do research on employers and prepare questions that show interest in the jobs and organisations your child is interviewing for. Make sure they’re not questions that could be easily answered by looking at the organisation’s website.
- Go online for tips on preparing for interviews. You could start with Ambitious about Autism’s interview tips or Job Access’s interview preparation tips.
Employers and recruiters often look at personal social media pages, like Facebook and Instagram, as part of their selection processes. It’s a good idea to remind your child to check his privacy settings and talk to him about why employers might not like certain types of posts.