Preparing for the Trip: Finding Road Trip Companions

Making friends and building a tribe are important for anyone preparing for employment. We all depend on networking to find and keep jobs. I’ve heard people talking lately about how no one is dependent or independent. We are all interdependent. We need each other to be successful, and friends also make life more fun.

Inclusion is important in making sure that people with disabilities have the chance to meet people at school who may become their future employers, coworkers, and employees. When kids grow up together, they learn that people with disabilities have gifts to offer the world. Kids can see their peers with disabilities as individuals when they are in class together. They learn to get along with each other. Kids with disabilities also learn that they are can work and follow their dreams just like anyone else.

My son Andy wanted to apply for a job at the grocery store when he saw his friends from high school working there, and he had every expectation that he could get a job just like they could. And he’s learned to get along with people and follow social cues because he’s had lots of opportunities to be with friends. His friends have also seen him win photography contests and heard him speak on the school news about his artwork, so they also know he has talent. And his friends have learned that the other kids with disabilities at their school have different and equally meaningful talents to contribute in the future as employees and coworkers.

His friend Julia says that she also recognizes that she has learned from Andy in preparing for the future:

Andy has helped me prepare for the future by keeping me optimistic about it. He always sees things on the bright side and is so encouraging to me, and everyone around him! Whenever I need someone to motivate me I turn to Andy because he never fails to make me feel like I CAN do it!

What inclusion looked like in 3rd grade …

Third grade students sitting on steps.

Senior Prom …

Young men at prom.

… and graduation.

Four young people wearing graduation gowns.

Youth with disabilities can also make friends and develop their talents in many other ways. The friends they make can help them find jobs in the future and support them in following their dreams. After-school activities, church, Scouts, sports, Special Olympics, Friends Club, music classes, and volunteer work are great ways to make friends. They are also great ways to build skills for future work.

You can find friends at Scouts …

Scouts at an Eagle Court of Honor

playing sports …

2 Lacrosse players and coach

Special Olympics, Challenger League …

2 young men with Down syndrome and girl

Friends Club, and church.

Four friends at Prom

These strong networks can help youth with disabilities find joy, build employment skills, and make connections with people who recognize their value as employees when they are ready to work. Their peers also often benefit from higher emotional intelligence and ability to work with many diverse groups.

Andy’s friend, Kyle, adds:

Being friends with Andy has taught me to always try and see the good in every situation. I especially saw this in the locker room when he would try and coach us and encourage us even when we were losing. He has taught me to love everybody no matter what, because that is what he does! Being close friends with Andy has prepared me for my future because he has made me a more accepting and understanding friend.

Resources on making and keeping friends throughout the school years:

KentuckyWorks: Meet Friends

University of Minnesota: Friends: Connecting People with Disabilities and Community Members: A Manual for Families

Amy Julia Becker: 10 Tips for Raising a Cool Kid with Down Syndrome (even if you’re a nerdy parent like me)