For parents of teens with special needs, life after high school can be a little scary as routines and relationships undergo major changes. As a parent, you may be unsure of which interests and skills to encourage your son or daughter to pursue. Today, Ellie Van Keulen, Inclusive Education teacher at South Christian High School, shares some tips on guiding your teen with special needs on their journey after high school.
1.Consult Your Contacts. As a parent, you will have to take an active role in developing contacts and potential work for your son or daughter, particularly if he or she has significant disabilities. Talk to friends and family that know your son or daughter well in order to make a wise decision regarding their future following high school. Meet with your son or daughter’s high school teachers and discuss their gifts and strengths. Find out what vision they have for your teen.
Based on your conversations, develop a list of contacts at places where your son or daughter could work or volunteer. Meet with community members at these places and think creatively about how you could craft a possible position for your teen.
2. Connect with Friends. Help your teen stay connected with friends following high school. This may involve helping them make contacts, teaching them how to email, making phone calls, or making the contacts yourself. Many times, teens with significant needs can’t do this for themselves, so you will need to help them with this.
Also encourage your son or daughter to go to sports events, concerts, and plays at their former high school, and help them get active in church by joining a Bible study or finding a place to serve. These connections will ease the transition into this new phase of life and give them a sense of purpose. It takes extra work on your part, but the reward is great in that they have friends!
3. Do Your Research. Look into available clubs or groups to help your son or daughter maintain social contacts. There are plenty of regional options (simply Google “Young Adult with Disability Opportunities” in your area). In Grand Rapids, MI, some of our options include Ready for Life and Compassionate Heart Ministry. There are also national groups, like Young Life Capernaum, that you could pursue.
4. Investigate Transition and Job Training Options. Look into local transition programs for persons with disabilities. Consider options like Shepherd’s College (WI), Noorthoek Academy at Grand Rapids Community College (MI), Hope College’s Ready for Life (MI), and Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MI).
There are many job training programs available throughout the U.S. Look into your State Department for options like the Michigan Career and Technical Institute, in your area. Nationwide programs such as Project Search also have placements throughout the U.S. More information is available online or through your transition coordinator or counselor at your teen’s high school.
5. Track Work Experience. Be sure to get summaries of any work experiences, whether volunteer or paid, transferred to any transition options your teen pursues after high school.
6. Pray. Pray with your teen and try to include him or her in decision making when possible. Above all, ask God to guide you and your teen!
Ellie Van Keulen is the Inclusive Education teacher at South Christian High School, where she runs Connections, a program that helps students at all levels of ability establish friendships through peer tutoring, lunch partners, and an annual banquet.