Monday, May 23, 2011

Gazing Into The Crystal Ball

I need your opinions on something.

Once a child with disabilities reaches middle school and beyond, schools place a bigger emphasis on vocational skills - preparing the children for jobs once school is over. IDEA 2004 definitely supports that:

In “Findings” of IDEA 2004 (Section 1400(c)), Congress found that “30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children,” educating them in the regular classroom so they can “meet developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children and be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible.” (Section 1400(c)(5)(A))

But how does a school district and an IEP team determine what are appropriate vocational skills for a student? I would like to know your experiences, and if your child is too young for you to have addressed this issue yet, what are you expectations for the time when your child is old enough to discuss transition and vocational skills?

Here are some examples:

Do you feel it is appropriate for students with disabilities to have jobs in the school such as wiping tables and chairs in the cafeteria - or delivering mail and newspapers to the teachers - or cleaning up a classroom at the end of the school day? How about sorting utensils or putting toothbrush holders together? Or, learning how to use simple tools like a screwdriver and hammer? Would you like to see your child take care of plants in the school building or clean up/feed pets like hamsters or fish in the school?

Has your child had a great vocational training experience while in school? If you child is older and out of school, did the skills taught in the school contribute to their success as a young adult? Or, did you feel like your child was set afloat at the end of his/her school career with no skills to support productive employment?

What are your dreams for your child as they related to adulthood, employment and independent living? Do you feel your school team shares and understands your dreams?

And finally, are you frightened what the future holds for your child with a disability? I am, and that is why I need help with all these questions...


  1. Mom of a disabled childMay 23, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    Having a child (who is disabled) in college now who has gone through the public school district it unnerves me that teachers limit our children. I will tell every parent out there that is reading this to stand up for your child! You are your child's only advocate. If you don't want them cleaning the tables at school, say so! The school cannot do anything to your child without your consent. Remember you are the parent not the principle, teacher, specialist, etc.. No one knows their child better than the parent. I have seen some children greatly benefit from vocational training while in high school, so I'm not saying that is not a great resource but you know your child and it is your job to do right by them. Honestly, the future for my son scares me to death. He has a harder time in life than the "normal" kid, so he has to take writing 3 times to pass it at college level and English 2 times. It makes life harder but no impossible.

  2. This is a huge issue of mine. My daughter is 15 and a freshman in HS. I went along with her cleaning the cafeteria tables along with her class in middle school and all of that. It always made me feel a little funny but I wasn't sure what it was I didn't like about it. On the surface it seemed fine.
    This year they got "real jobs". They bus them to other schools and have them do things like stapling papers, collating papers, and sharpening pencils. Once a week they got a little bag of chips, or something, as a reward, I guess. This upset me immediately. I thought that when she started HS that she would have more opportunity to do more HS things. In middle school she took Science class with the average kids and took choir. My daughter is extremely social and she loves going to these classes. She loves to sing and has a great voice and was perfect in the choir.
    In HS they told us she couldn't take any average classes - they didn't have people available to go with her(she doesn't need anyone to go with her) and they said it would take time away from her "job". I am so confused how sharpening pencils is helping her prepare for life after HS. There are 4 years of HS and then 2 years of HS(but they call it something else) after they finish HS that mostly covers job training & life skills. Why is my daughter getting 6 years of collating and zero years of high school classes?
    When you ask these questions you hear all about how they need to be trained properly now, so that they can function well in group homes, sheltered workshops, etc. The general idea is that they want them to all think alike and have the same expectations and fall in line so as to not cause problems for the staff at group homes and sheltered workshops.
    In the IEP meeting they tell you that how your child scored on the tests they gave them shows that your child will work in a sheltered workshop as an adult. My child is 15 and delayed. They have no clue what my child will be like at 25 or 30. I suppose they can guess based on how all the other kids react to the years of brainwashing they give them before they send them all off to the exact same place to live and "work".
    At 15 my child is pretty close to being able to work at Old Navy as a greeter, or something like that. She is super social and articulate. She has trouble keeping track of things and needs guidance, but she is perfectly capable of a ton of things I feel like are being overlooked.
    I see people in wheelchairs with more than mild disabilities working at the movie theater and at Target and Old Navy. Why is it already being assumed that my kid is going to be working in a sheltered workshop for the rest of her life? This angers me like nothing else.
    Some kids will work in workshops and there is nothing wrong with that, but why is it assumed that they will all do the exact same thing, and so they start training them to fit into these environments so early on? They don't even care about academics or any typical high school life experiences. If you want your child to have these things you better be prepared to fight for them.
    It is so easy to think that they know what's best because it's what they do for a living, but they are blind from staying inside their own little world and aren't able to see the big picture.
    You are your child's parent and that trumps teachers, therapists and Doctors - That IEP can't go through unless signed by you. Use that power! Get advocates if you have to, but don't allow them to put your kid in the same box as every other kid in special ed. They all deserve to be treated as individuals, and isn't that what IEP stands for? And it is their right to be in the least restrictive environment as possible - IT'S THE LAW!!!

  3. This is something that my school district and I have discussed every year since my son was in 5th grade. He spent most of his younger days in the resource room - leading the district to strongly consider a Life Skills placement when he moved on to middle school. But that was a DISCUSSION BETWEN THE TWO OF US and, ultimately, we decided that it wasn't the right time yet. I really was given the final word - fortunate enough to have teachers who said they'd back me up either way. He ended up needing additional support through middle school, and we still talked about it every year, but he remained in the regular program/resource room throughout middle school. He did have jobs like sharpening pencils, emptying trash, working in the cafeteria, delivering things, etc. from 5th grade on - but that was because HE wanted them and it was the way to get him through school. He did better with jobs and was happier.
    When it was time to start HS, I made my annual list of what I felt like was important for him - things I wanted to see in his IEP - and, well, we all had to admit that the list looked pretty much like a Life Skills classroom. I was terrified and grief-struck. I felt like I was giving up on him and giving up on the final dream that I had for him to have a successful life. I worried about menial jobs and wasted time. But what happened is that I ended up with a happy kid - happier than he's ever been in school. He has one elective in the regular classes, resource room for reading (oddly enough his best subject), time in the Life Skills classroom, and is working through a wide variety of off-campus jobs. Daily, he goes off campus to work at different job sites (grocery, Wal-Mart, gym, nursery, etc...) with real job coaches and does real work. He doesn't get paid - which I have mixed feelings about - but he is getting lots of different job experiences and is being taught to do quality work and to show up on time and be dressed neatly, and when he "wears out" on a job, he gets switched to a new one. It's actually pretty great - I can see that, in 2 years, he's going to leave HS and enter "Community Transitions" with a decent resume of different job experiences, a sense of HOW to do and go to a job, and with some real ideas about what he wants and doesn't want to do for a living.
    I was initially worried and doubtful about the whole Life Skills thing - but it has turned out to be a great thing for him. He's more articulate, feels better about himself because he's doing things he CAN do instead of things he can't, and he's still learning. I guess it was just, at some point, I could no longer ignore what my son wanted for school, as well as what I wanted for him. His IEPs for the last couple of years have been a mixture of what I want, what his teachers see as important, and what we think he'll rect well to. I feel fortunate that I've had a relationship with the district that, for the most part, has gone very smoothly. I'll not say it's easy, or that I don't still have my worries, but I think that, with the partnership between myself and the school - good, open communication with his teacher - I think it's turning out as good as I could hope for, and maybe even better.