Tag Archives: independence

What’s In A Job?

What’s in a job? An awful lot, I believe, if you’re a young person with additional needs. I should qualify that by acknowledging that for some young people there will be restrictions on the kind of jobs they can hold down because of the nature of their needs. I know certain jobs my daughter has expressed an interest in won’t work for her, like being a tour guide at Harry Potter World. She gets anxious in large groups. But I do remember one parent telling me how important it is to work with what our children want to do, and try and find a creative way for them achieve that. So for my daughter possibly a tour guide in a smaller attraction is an option.

In my mind I have this plan: my daughter will one day have a job, earn her own money and live independently. But it isn’t a plan with a timescale attached. She is 16, so plenty of time to worry about that later, right? No, wrong! the years fly by. So instead of just talking, I need to start timing the plan. At the same age, my oldest already had a part-time job on the weekend. This not only helped her confidence, but it gave her a sense of control over her own life because the money she earned she could spend any way she wanted. A sense of control is an essential part of growing up, and one many young people with additional needs miss out on. The fact is very few young people with additional needs end up having part-time jobs while still in full-time education.

So what is the first step to getting this part-time job? One option is to start with volunteering because there needs to be a dose of realism here. Volunteering can enable her to experience the world of work without the pressures that come with a paid job. But this has to be temporary. Volunteering, in my mind, is not a job; it’s giving something back to the community, which we should all do but it won’t help pay the bills.

Another option could be asking friends with businesses to help out with some work experience, unpaid at first most likely. Most of us know people who have a business, and maybe they have a role which fits into what your young person is interested in. If you’re very lucky you just happen to have a friend who owns a video games company or a chocolate factory. But I don’t think the role is as important as the responsibility of having to be somewhere, to do something. That gives the sense of progress towards independence.

If you are lucky enough to have one of the organizations I have talked with on the podcast on your doorstep, then this whole process might be easier. Approach them and see what connections they can help out with.  This is a good chance to start planning ahead because if you’re similar to me your son/daughter is still at school so not in need of these services just yet. Organizations like Invictus Enterprises, Team Domenica, Acceptable Enterprises, Yes She Can Inc. and bemix are ready and able to provide the stepping stones into paid employment.

In so many ways we support our children, so helping them transition into paid work is just another one of our many challenges. But I feel the rewards will be worth the struggles. I can’t wait for my daughter to get her first paycheck and choose to spend her money on something I totally disapprove of. A job will equal more control over her life, more choices and she deserves this just like everyone else.

Invictus Enterprises: Building The Steps Into Work

Podcast Episode 46. What happens to young people with additional needs when they finish full-time education? How will they find employment? How will they cope on their own throughout adulthood? Continue reading

Get The Basics Right


My oldest daughter has just moved out of home to go to university. My dream is that one day my youngest daughter will also move out, maybe not to go to university but to at least live in a place of her own. So as my oldest headed towards an independent life I suddenly realized that even she had some gaps in her knowledge of daily living skills. But I know that she will adapt very quickly and be fine. Could I say the same for my youngest daughter with additional needs – I’m not sure.

We have been working on some skills with our youngest particularly in areas like food shopping. She is referred to in our house as the trolley queen because, despite a difficult start where she really needed warning lights, she is now very adept at manoeuvering around the supermarket. She also knows where most items are in our regular supermarket. She is an expert at self-checkout and we often send her in alone (we are of course lurking outside the only exit) with a small shopping list. Contactless cards are surely the future!

What got me thinking about how much we have taught her was that talking to Lisa at Team Domenica in the last podcast she said that often the young people that come to them lack some of the basic daily living skills and I started to question whether this is also the case with my daughter.

How many times have we not given our daughter the chance to do things herself? And it’s not because we don’t want her to be independent or that we don’t think she can do it even. It’s that protective thing that last so much longer I think when you have a child with additional needs. I don’t want her to go into a café and order a drink and be embarrassed because they don’t understand her or for her to give the wrong money. Why do I still take her to the hairdresser when I don’t need to be there. Why doesn’t she look after her own train ticket when we are out? Make her own lunch all the time. Am I protecting her or making her transition towards independence slower and more difficult.

I know I’ve talked before about letting go before but listening to Lisa was a reminder to stop talking about it and do it. I’ve treated my daughter differently. Okay so maybe my youngest has it over my oldest when it comes to the supermarket but that was probably it. My oldest was encouraged to go into shops to order for herself. As she got old enough she was responsible for washing her own clothes. And yes it sometimes meant she had no clean clothes, but she soon figured out the solution was regular use of the washing machine. With my youngest it’s all too ad hoc, I pick things she can do easily not things that will challenge her.  Am I simply too hands-on with my younger daughter probably – actually – no definitely. So it’s back to basics, if she should be doing it then from now on she will be doing it by herself. These skills may seem easy and basic to me but to her, they are the first big step towards independence.

Why I Need to Stop Being The Problem Solver

It’s all about change in our house at the moment. It’s that time of the year, here in the UK, when both my daughters are about to finish their school years. The oldest is finishing her secondary education and will be moving away from home come September. The youngest is also finishing her school year and next year will be in post 16 education. Because she is in a specialist school the move from school to post 16 is a pretty big deal and is seen as the first step in her moving from child to adult.

So, it was rather handy that the theme of my latest podcast Stepping Back (Part 1) was all about the challenge of letting your children take risks, make mistakes and learn to solve their own problems. Listening to Lisa (a speech and language therapist) and Milla (an occupational therapist) talk about how they work with young people – encouraging their independence, and how it is often us parents who unwittingly hold back our children by not stepping back – it got me reassessing what I do in terms of actually encouraging my daughter’s independence. It would appear I could be all style no substance. Let me explain what I mean.

Every day my daughter walks to school, accompanied by myself and our dog. Its only about a 20-minute walk, the dog loves it, and despite my daughter’s occasional objections, I think she does as well. It’s one of those times we can chat, but when I’m not making her talk to me. She can talk if she wants or she can just walk. But the main reason we walk is to help her develop independent travel skills. She is what can be best described as an inconsistent road crosser, so the walk involves opportunities to practice her road crossing skills.

Now, before listening to Milla and Lisa, I thought I was doing this pretty well: we come to the road; we stop; I let her look both ways, and then we cross. So far so good. But listening to them made me think about how this goes. I walk beside her. I stop at the road. I let her look both ways then I move when it’s ok to cross. Maybe she is not learning to cross independently; maybe she is reading my signs and responding to those?

Another example they used was on the train. Again, as we approach our station, I pick up my bag and start looking towards the door, getting ready to get off. That’s the cue for my daughter to get ready to get off as well. What if I didn’t move, would she do it without me? Would she know which is her stop?           How many other cues and signs do I give her without even realizing it. This stepping back idea sounded very easy before I thought about it too deeply.

Lisa and Milla talked also about shopping. Now I thought this was one area I was doing ok. I was stepping back and letting my daughter develop some skills. She has started to go into the supermarket alone to buy a few items. She has a shopping list app on her phone and we have kept the list fairly short. But not being with her I hadn’t considered exactly how she shops. What I hadn’t thought about was how we all shop intuitively. I know if I want milk and cheese, these are near each other. Luckily the app she uses groups things together but what if she hasn’t got her phone. Maybe some work to be done here. And another thing I hadn’t considered – add in those dreaded use by dates. When I buy milk I have quick look at the date on the container. I don’t think my daughter knows what to look for. One way for her to have a system to get this right (suggested by Lisa in the podcast) is to take the milk from the back.

Lisa and Milla also talked about the merits of the self-service checkout. That is very definitely my daughter’s choice of exit. And I must admit I hadn’t really thought too deeply about the why. I often prefer it too as it can be quicker. But they reminded me that more likely it’s because she doesn’t really want to talk to anyone. So I guess that needs to change, with queues ahead of her as she learns to shop independently.

Following on from this, as Lisa and Milla suggest, is to think about how to use every opportunity to build skills. Thus, a trip to movies can include the actual purchase of the ticket. I can almost feel the level of fear that will bring to me and my daughter. I’d worry for her and she would hate it, which means it has to be done.

Of course, it’s going to get very tiring if every time we leave the house I’m trying to teach or reinforce some skill. And Lisa and Milla talked about this, suggesting that the best approach is focusing on a few areas at a time. Learning independent life skills needs to be fun, not a chore. Some things will be challenging and take time. I must remember to let her see a purpose to what she is doing and make it as natural as possible.

So what will happen in reality? Me wondering how my daughter will feel when she gets it wrong, and how long will it take her to learn? Will her confidence be dented? Does this make me a bad parent? Shouldn’t I always be there beside her? But if I need to be reminded why I’m doing all this then I should listen to the parent Milla quotes at the end of the podcast, “I allow my children to take risks because if I’m not here I need to be sure I’ve given them the opportunity to be as independent as possible.” I couldn’t put it better myself. It won’t be easy watching her struggle and make mistakes, but it will be very easy watching her become a problem solver and an independent young woman.

 

SMART Planning

We all know planning ahead can help us reach our goals more easily, but when it comes to actually doing the planning well that’s not quite as easy. What got me thinking about planning was listening to the latest podcast Planning Ahead again where Laura shared the way she has helped her son plan for his independent future. I have suddenly realised that time is running out for me to make sure my daughter has clear goals that will get her to a place where independent living can be her reality. It’s fine me going on about how she will be independent, but it simply won’t happen unless there is a clear plan about how the skills she will need are to be developed and learnt.

That’s not to say I’m completely unprepared and haven’t done any planning. There are many things we do as a family to prepare her. She would argue she is a bit like Cinderella doing all the cooking and cleaning around the house. Not quite true but over the last couple of years, there has been a focus on getting her to cook both for herself and the family. She even knows how the washing machine and dishwasher work.

I think listening to Laura talk about her son resonated because she has got him to exactly where I hope I get my daughter to in a few years: he’s just about to leave full-time education equipped with many of the skills he needs for independent living. More importantly, he knows exactly what the next steps will be. He has avoided that going off the cliff edge you will have heard mentioned when it comes to what happens to our children once they finish full-time education.

There is no doubt that one of the main reasons for this success is the level of planning that he and his family have put in. To quote Laura, “We never concentrate on the present, it’s the future you’ve got to always be thinking about.”

So, a great idea but how to do it? Laura’s strategy was to sit down and make a list of what her son wanted to do, at least in terms of what job he might do. This is the big one really because a key part of independence is always going to be linked to a job. So, making a list of all the areas they may want to work in, then going through the list together and considering each option, very honestly, makes sense. This is a conversation I have started with my daughter, but I need to do it in a more structured way.

In terms of really getting goals written down with a structure, I plan to use the S.M.A.R.T approach. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. You may have seen this acronym before but if not, the idea is to set goals that have all of these elements. So, a goal I might set with my daughter would be  “Cook a lasagne for the family without any help by the end of this year“.

This is a very clear goal even down to the dish she is to cook so passes the specific test. It is measurable because we will be eating lasagne if she achieves it. It is achievable because it is based on what we know about her cooking skills and that is that she is ready for this next step. It is realistic also because we have been working with her and she is already doing a lot of the preparation and cooking by herself. It is time-bound because we have said exactly when we want her to have achieved this.

I think using SMART goals will work really well for my daughter. She likes to know what’s happening in her life so that’s specific and measurable covered. Achievable and realistic are in part down to us as parents, we will have to make judgements on what she is ready to do, although the big issue here is that we must be careful not to underestimate her abilities.  Time-bound is very important too. Like I said earlier, I can tell the world how I want my daughter to be independent, I can believe it but if I’m not really working to a plan to achieve it then it’s very unclear when it might happen. I do have a vague notion I would like her living away from home by 25. So, setting a time frame to achieve certain skills will ensure she is always moving forward towards that independence.

What goals to start with? As I mentioned above, work will be the main thing that needs careful planning.  I do plan to put in other things as well including skills around daily living. The example above is an actual goal but I’m thinking there will also be other goals linked around this such as shopping independently to buy all the food she might need to make a meal. We are having some challenges with social media at the moment, so there is bound to be a goal around that too.  Budgeting and dealing with money will also need some clear goals.

Of course, any plan I do make is very likely to be interrupted by unexpected events, or by a realisation that my daughter can do more than I think she can, or that some of the goals set for her need to be delayed or extended.

Using this clear goal approach has helped Laura enable her son to be independent but in a very structured way. This “helping hand” approach is a tactic that many parents use to help guide the way for their children, and it’s something that allows them to gain the confidence they need to live a more independent life. It’s one I plan to replicate and use with real purpose. It’s time I was more SMART.

Letting Go Of My Expectations

What does letting go mean? Answer: it means a lot of different things to different people. We let go of things that have caused us emotional pain in the past and we can let go of relationships. As the parent of a young person with additional needs we also sometimes let go of our expectations. I’ve heard other parents talk about going through something that felt like mourning when they first got their child’s diagnosis. Mourning the child they might have had and the life that child would have had have. At first this sounds really negative but in reality, it’s natural because we have expectation about what parenting will be like and what kind of parent you will be. I was aiming for Little House on the Prairie, but I suspect my daughters see more of the Simpsons.

So, after we get over this realisation that the journey we are going on with our child is going to be different than what we might have expected, we decide that whatever happens our child will have the same opportunities we had and we get on with parenting them.

What this can mean and how to let go of our own expectations was the theme of the latest podcast, Letting Go, where I talked to Fiona, a Brit who now live in the US,  who has to two sons with autism. Fiona explains that like most parents she followed the expected path for her oldest son in terms of his education. So, when her son was younger, one issue that Fiona faced head on was the perceptions of other parents at her son’s school. They didn’t understand autism so from that came an expectation of her son and how he would behave at school. By actively speaking to other parents she changed their expectations of her son and this had a positive impact, at least on a social level.

Fiona also talks about moving to a new country and the impact that can have. The move wasn’t easy and there were ups and downs with the end result being, that when her son turned 16, Fiona and her husband decided to let go of their own expectations of what he should be doing and let him leave school, which at that point he hated. After a brief period, he decided that wanted to continue his education albeit in a different way. He has now finished his high school diploma and started college a year earlier than he would have done if he stayed in school.

So although the leaving school option might not be available here in the UK what I learnt from talking to Fiona is that I need to look at whether what I want for my daughter is based on my expectations or her aspirations. If I truly want her to be independent the first thing I need to do is let go of my expectations of what her life will look like and let her design her own life.

One Year, Less Fear

Regular readers will know why we started Journey Skills. Fear of the future. Fear of what would happen to our daughter when she finishes full time education, which is coming towards us way too fast. So, one year on from when we launched Journey Skills, I am pleased to say I’m not afraid anymore. It has been a pleasure and privilege to talk to and share the stories of so many fantastic people. I’ve found some fabulous solutions to many of the problems I anticipated, which has made me very optimistic for my daughters future.

One key part of my daughter’s independent future will be a job. Finding paid work is not an easy task for young people with additional needs, often because of negative perceptions around their ability to work.  Hence, nothing takes away my future fears more than hearing what is possible and what forward thinking people are doing to change the world of work my daughter will jump into in a few years. In my latest podcast, Providing Opportunity Not Charity, I talked to Steve Chapman and Matt Clifton, from Skillnet Group, who are doing their bit to alleviate my fears.

Matt is the Chief Executive and Steve is a former client of Skillnet. Steve now mentors young people placed with employers on internships. He also spends time educating employers as to why those with additional needs make excellent employees. Skillnet Group started in part as a result of a white paper issued in the UK in 2001 called ‘Valuing People’. While you might not have time or inclination to read all of it, the executive summary is worth a read, even if to be a good reminder of how far we have come.

This report identified where change was needed and this, along with the frustrations felt by a small group of people who believed the services being offered did not enable people to develop, grow or progress led to the creation of the Skillnet Group.  The focus is on developing initiatives where choice and control are  put into the hands of the people using them. The focus is on real work where people with additional needs are valued and seen as contributors not passive recipients of care. A key part of the operational structure of Skillnet is that they are not a charity, something Matt was keen to stress. Matt recognises that there are many charities, across varied sectors, doing excellent work. However, he also believes that often the concept of charities can reinforce an imbalance of a power where there are helpers and people being helped. Skillnet is a social enterprise and operates very much as a business. It sell services as a supportive and nurturing employment agency.

Steve illustrates what can happen when opportunities are provided. If you listen to the podcast you will hear Steve explain how his initial involvement with Skillnet was through attending courses, and how he quickly realised that this wasn’t enough for him. He felt his strengths lay in talking to others, particularly employers. He knew he could help change the attitudes of employers towards people with additional needs.  Steve passionately believes everyone has a need and desire to earn their own money, and are empowered as a result of doing so.

Organisations like Skillnet Group, Ignition Brewery, REDinc and The Ark Project give hope. While these organisations may not necessarily be the right fit for my daughter, or your child, somewhere out there is the solution. In the meantime I shall keep looking and sharing what I find and I hope you will continue to come on the the journey with me.