When Andy was born 18 years ago, I was overwhelmed with worry about his future. Would he go to college? Would he get a job? Would he get married? Would people be kind to him?
I realize now how lucky I was that so many people stepped in to show me what the future could hold. On our second day at the hospital, one mom showed me a photo of her eight-year-old son with Down syndrome riding a bike and told me how much her son’s friends at school loved him. Another mom told me about her teen son who earned his Eagle Scout award, and a woman with Down syndrome worked part-time at our early education program and told me about how much she loved her husband of seven years.
Because of these wonderful influences in my life, I just assumed early on that Andy would ride a bike, read, earn his Eagle Scout award … like his dad, go to college, work at a meaningful job, and get married someday. These influences and examples are key in helping families and children see the possibilities for the future. Children with intellectual disabilities–and all children–will have challenges in life, but we can expect that they can all learn, work, achieve, and have meaningful relationships. Plus, when given the opportunity, our children can surprise us with skills and talents we never imagined.
Along the way, Andy has certainly struggled with reading and math, so we have had to adjust some expectations there. However, he has shown that he is extremely talented at getting along with people, figuring out electronics, and photography, and he can build a career on those things. We learned Andy had a knack for photography by giving him opportunities early on. My husband starting putting a camera in Andy’s hand at 8-years-old to see what he could do..
He has also shown initiative in getting a job as a high school student bagging groceries at a local grocery store, and he likes to use the money he earns to go out on dates. He can manage his own transportation by walking and riding a bike, and soon we will also work on riding our local bus service and getting a learner’s permit. He will also be going to his Eagle Scout Board of Review in March, and he is excited about going to the post-secondary college program at our local university after attending their camp last year.
Andy is following his dreams, and life is different in some ways and even better than we envisioned as his parents. But those expectations are what kept motivating us to provide opportunities, fight for inclusion, and encourage his ambition. So, as I used to read to Andy when he was little from Dr. Suess’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go”:
“So … be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!)”
Tips for raising employment expectations from preschool onward:
- Find mentors (people you admire with older kids) at your local parent advocacy group or in online forums!
- Give your child as many age-appropriate responsibilities as possible.
- Learn more from KentuckyWorks about raising expectations for employment, including videos of successful people with disabilities at work, job stories, and tips about preparing your child for work.
- Start exploring your child’s skills, talents, and interests when they are young and cultivate those talents when you find them.