Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A Social-Cognitive Exploration of the Career and College Understanding of Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A Social-Cognitive Exploration of the Career and College Understanding of Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Article excerpt

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD, 2011) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2013) define an intellectual disability (ID) as limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior. Adaptive behavior assesses conceptual skills (e.g., language, money, and time concepts), social skills (e.g., interpersonal skills and social problem solving), and practical skills (e.g., activities of daily living, occupation). An intellectual disability also originates before the age of 18. The AAIDD (2011) also purports that the life function of a person with ID will improve with appropriate supports and services over a sustained period of time. The term intellectual disability is used in this article in accordance with the comprehensive definition assembled by the AAIDD (2011) and includes the wide range of disabilities within the ID classification.

More than 447,000 students ages 3 to 21 diagnosed with ID receive special education services while in school (U. S. Department of Education, 2013). One of the most difficult transitions that students with ID and their families face is leaving the public school system and entering the adult world (Wehman, 2012). Important decisions, such as where to work and live and how to access friendships and leisure opportunities, need to be made (Foley, Dyke, Girdler, Bourke, & Leonard, 2012). The student will be leaving the public school system, which offers services on an entitlement basis, and entering an adult service system that operates on the basis of eligibility. This means that employment and living opportunities are not guaranteed for every person and that families will face many unknowns as they plan for the future (Kim & Yurnball, 2004). Most youth with ID exit high school without the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to successfully find work (Carter, Trainor, Cakiroglu, Swedeen, & Owens, 2009).

Until recently, most students with ID had no educational options after completing high school (Think College, 2009). The introduction of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA, 2008) increased postsecondary and career options for these students, with more than 200 specially designed higher education programs existing across the U.S. as of 2014 (Think College, 2014). Although these programs vary in scope, services, and sequence, they all have the goal of helping students achieve gainful employment and increased independence (Grigal, Hart, Smith, Domin, & Sulewski, 2013). Even with the recent addition of specialized programs, only 20% of people with ID are employed, those who are employed are more likely to work only part time, and most people with ID lack postsecondary education (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013).

With the new postsecondary programs available, more students with ID are continuing their education on a college campus. As a result, transition planning procedures are beginning to include postsecondary education as a possible next step in student development for students with ID. As high schools are being pushed to have all students be college and career ready, it is essential that individuals with ID are adequately prepared. Moreover, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) mandates that school counselors should serve the needs of all K-12 students, and transition planning for students with disabilities falls within the appropriate activities for middle and high school counselors (ASCA, 2012). Finding and utilizing a model for the social-cognitive understanding of the baseline career and college knowledge of students with ID is a crucial first step to identify gaps in the educational and career preparation of this population.


Social cognitive career theory (SCCT) includes a variety of constructs that researchers have shown to contribute to career development. …

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