Top 3 Ways We Can Support our Students in the School-to-Work Transition

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Compared to their nondisabled peers, students with disabilities are more likely to experience unemployment or under-employment, lower pay, and job dissatisfaction (Dunn, 1996). Our biggest job as Speech-Language Pathologists working with adolescents and young adult students is to support these students in actualizing their potential to its fullest expression and help them secure and maintain gainful employment. Here are 3 ways we can support our students in the school-to-work transition, in order to help build the skills necessary for increased independence in preparation for life after high school. 

1. Communication Skills (following and giving directions, communicating information to others, understanding and processing information). 

If you are working on following directions for your older students and young adults, you have to STOP having them lick their lips and touch their toes as a way to practice following verbal commands! I see this ALL of the time with the graduate students that I supervise, and simply not knowing how to work on following and giving directions that are functional and relevant. I can’t stress enough that the older students and young adult we work with need to be working on FUNctional directions that are related to tasks during activities of daily living, especially as they relate to vocational skills. If your adolescent or young adult student works at a thrift store, think about what directions they may need to be able to follow in order to be successful in their job. Maybe it’s organizing shirts by color before they organize by size, or perhaps it’s to sweep the floors before they vacuum the carpet. Think about where these students desire to work or are currently working, and give them opportunities to practice following directions that are relevant to tasks they may encounter within their workplace. 

2. Social and Interpersonal Skills (answering the phone, taking a message, communicating with customers, learning social problem solving techniques, knowing what topics are/aren’t appropriate to discuss at work, etc.).

Broad-based knowledge of vocational skills are great to target, but for most adolescent and young adult students that we work with, specific skills are necessary for survival in the workplace and in the community, and need to be explicitly taught. Depending on where our student are working or desire to work, we can be very specific in the conversational script we practice when answering customer phone calls, returning customer phone calls, and interacting with customers and co-workers in the workplace. I can’t stress enough just how important it is to shadow our students at their place of work or desired place of work, in order to understand the communication demands being put on them, and come up with ways that we can specifically help them meet these communication demands. Besides practicing making and taking phone calls and rehearsing conversational scripts with customers, I also love practicing critical thinking and problem-solving strategies by coming up with a specific plan for hypothetical situations that may occur at specific worksites. For example, if your students works at a fast-food restaurant, perhaps they can discuss what to do when the drink dispenser is not working, or how they can deal with an angry customer, or why it’s important to wait for a customer to leave before sweeping around them. For interactive critical thinking and problem-solving activities, you can click here.

3. Occupational and Vocational Skills (calling in when sick, requesting vacation time, using appropriate tone and volume at work, accepting corrections, knowing appropriate interactions with co-workers, etc.)

Last, but certainly not least, we can help support our adolescent and young adult students prepare for employment by working directly on occupational and vocational skills that are necessary to gain and keep employment. For example, practicing calling in sick to an employer, filling out the appropriate form to request vacation and/or sick time, responding to a supervisor and/or co-worker when corrected about job responsibilities, and knowing appropriate interactions with co-workers and customers at work. Our therapy sessions are a safe place for our adolescent and young adult students to practice recognizing personal and professional boundaries that should be followed at their workplace, using appropriate vocal tone and volume, handling emotions at work, and other critical occupational and vocational skills to help our students successfully obtain and maintain gainful employment. One of my favorite workbooks that addresses these skills can be found by clicking here

We can do our part to help prepare these adolescent and young adult students for life after school, and empower them with skills to secure and maintain employment that can help build a sense of worth and accomplishment, and increase and overall life satisfaction. 

What else would you add to this? I would love to hear from you! Feel free to drop a comment below. 

(Dunn, C. (1996). A status report on transition planning for individuals with learning disabilities. In J.R. Patton & G. Blaylock (Eds.), Transition and students with learning disabilities: Facilitating the movement from school to adult life. Austin, TX: PRO-ED. 

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