From the very beginning, we need to share our vision of the future with the professionals working with our sons and daughters with intellectual disabilities. In pre-school and Kindergarten, we can talk to teachers and therapists about how we plan for our children to work in the community and build inclusive lives. And in middle and high school, our son and daughters can start leading these discussions with educators and employment specialists. Our teens can talk about what they want to do for their careers, where they would like to go for post-secondary programs, and what extracurricular activities and courses interest them.
For younger children:
You can craft a vision statement to share the future you envision for your younger child so that the entire team of professionals who work with your child can see the bigger picture. A vision statement is a description of what you would like your child to achieve as they grow up. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action.
Tiffany Stafford created this wonderful mission statement for younger children, which she shared at the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network conference a couple of years ago. She said that she envisions her daughter at 4-years old doing work someday that she enjoys and that makes her feel productive. Work can be a focus of the conversation even when children are very young to set that expectation. The vision statement can also highlight strengths that can one day transform into work skills, and the statement can include important guidance for what motivates and what doesn’t motivate the child.
For older students:
As your son or daughter gets older, they can start crafting their own vision statement of what they want for the future. Encourage them to think about what they really want to do as they start discovering their skills and talents by participating in extracurricular activities and seeing what interests them at school and at home.
In Andy’s vision statement, he wrote the content himself about what he wants for the future and then we helped him work on the rest of the content. Sometimes as youth with disabilities get older, they start to be directed down some more predictable employment paths: janitorial, cooking, retail, etc. And those are fine if that’s truly what a young person wants to do, but he or she can also forge a different path. Because Andy has always said he wants to be a photographer, his teachers have been more creative where his transition goals have been to take photos for yearbook class or take a design class with a modified curriculum.
As your son or daughter gets older, they can also share accomplishments as they participate in extracurricular activities, do volunteer work, and take leadership opportunities as available. These accomplishments will help prepare them for the world of work and also build their resume—just like any other high school student.
The vision statement can also highlight the strengths of the students to better show what soft skills the student might have that could transform into work skills.