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Maintaining high expectations

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Family expectations play an important role when it comes to work outcomes for your young person with intellectual disability. Research shows that young people whose families expect them to have a job when they leave school are more likely to have ongoing success in open employment.

You know your children better than anyone else. And we understand that generally, many parents start out with high expectations. However, as most parents know little about intellectual disability before their child is born, it’s natural for you to rely on information from doctors, specialists and other ‘experts’ about what the future might hold. The reality is, while most advice is well-meaning, it’s often based on outdated beliefs and low community expectations for people with intellectual disability.

Parents often only recognise their expectations are being lowered in hindsight. For example, when an allied health ‘expert’ gives you advice to ‘be realistic’, the underlying message is often ‘keep your expectations low, because your child is not capable of much’. Families have also reported that they slowly lose hope for their sons and daughters with intellectual disability because of experiences at school.

Unfortunately, this can stop parents believing that their children will someday want to get a job. And when parents come to believe these low expectations, they can unintentionally contribute to a cycle that makes it less likely that their young person will get a job.

For example, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is a question most people are asked as children. The expectation is that they will get a job when they grow up, and enjoy all the benefits that employment brings. However, children with intellectual disability are not usually encouraged to think about their future work, which can have a direct impact on whether they get a job.

You can break this cycle by maintaining high expectations of your young person. This will help your son or daughter to build their confidence and self-esteem and allow them to live a more independent life. Families that aim for open employment from a young age lay the groundwork for their sons and daughters to have a higher quality of life when they grow up.

Here are some tips for talking about employment with your young person with disability:

  • Hold similar expectations for your young person with disability as you do for any other children.
  • Encourage play that includes them as workers (playing doctors, being a storekeeper, not just a customer etc).
  • Talk positively with your young person about working.
  • Make the link between having a job and earning an income.
  • Talk about jobs you see people doing when you’re out and about.
  • Ask them what jobs they might like to do when they grow up.
  • Encourage their interests and get to know what they enjoy and are good at.
  • Encourage fitness and hygiene.
  • Hold them accountable to family expectations about housework and chores.
  • Teach them resilience by giving them opportunities to experience and overcome failure.
  • Ask other family, friends and peer networks for support.

It’s important to keep these topics alive as your child goes through school. Keep having these conversations and keep believing in your child’s ability to get a job when they grow up.

And finally, hang in there with your high expectations. Other people might end up being surprised, but you won’t be! It can take work to throw off the negative messages about what your child might be capable of – especially if these messages come from people you trust. But it’s absolutely worth it.

Open employment is when people with and without disability work together in regular jobs.
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