Adapted from Thinking About Tomorrow: The Transition to Adult Life by Jo Ann Simons as it appeared in Disability Solutions, Volume 6, Issue 1
For individuals with Down syndrome, finding meaningful employment can be a significant step toward independence and self-sufficiency. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the various employment options available to individuals with Down syndrome, including competitive, supported, and sheltered employment. We’ll also discuss the value of volunteer work as a means of gaining valuable job training and experience.
Competitive employment is a goal for many young adults with Down syndrome who possess good work skills and prior job experience. In the United States, the transition from secondary studies to competitive employment is a significant milestone. However, it’s important to note that competitive employment can be highly competitive, and some individuals may require job supports to succeed. Here are some examples of job support in a traditional competitive environment:
Job Coaches and Employment Specialists
Support personnel known as “Job Coaches” or “Employment Specialists” play a crucial role in helping individuals with Down syndrome succeed in competitive employment. They provide ongoing assistance until the individual can work independently.
The Fading Technique
Another approach to supporting competitive employment is fading, where job support is gradually reduced until the individual can work autonomously. This technique helps promote self-sufficiency while maintaining job performance.
The involvement of a Follow-Up Specialist is vital to monitor and ensure that the employee continues to meet workplace expectations and address any issues promptly. This component often gets overlooked, but it can prevent job loss.
Leveraging natural supports in the workplace is an often-overlooked opportunity. Coworkers can provide assistance and guidance to individuals with disabilities, making the workplace more inclusive.
Supported employment is suitable for individuals who require ongoing support to succeed in a competitive work environment. Unlike competitive employment, there are no time limits on support, making it an ideal option for individuals with various disabilities. Bitty & Beaus is one stellar example.
To learn more about supported employment, you can visit the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Reference
Sheltered employment, often referred to as sheltered workshops, is a setting where individuals with disabilities complete subcontract work, such as mailings, packaging, and assembly. Payment is based on their productivity in comparison to workers without disabilities.
Volunteer work provides a valuable opportunity to gain job training and experience. It is especially useful for individuals who may not require a paycheck or are looking to build their skills. It’s worth noting that volunteers cannot perform tasks that are typically compensated, but there are numerous volunteer opportunities available in libraries, Meals-on-Wheels programs, and other community services.
Individuals with Down syndrome can explore various employment options, from competitive and supported employment to volunteer work and sheltered employment. Each path has its unique advantages and challenges, making it essential to choose the right fit based on individual abilities and goals. As the journey toward employment unfolds, the support and guidance of family, educators, and professionals become invaluable in helping individuals with Down syndrome achieve their employment aspirations.