Career Development for Adolescents and Young Adults with Mental Retardation

Article excerpt

Career development activities by professional school counselors at the elementary, middle, and high school levels can help students with mental retardation make meaningful career choices as adults. School counselors can be advocates and providers of career development activities that link the individualized educational process for students with disabilities to career success. Career development activities that promote career goals, career interests, transferable occupational skills, decision-making skills, and the reframing of occupational opportunities can lead to greater vocational satisfaction in adulthood for people with mental retardation.

Career development is vital to a quality lifestyle for people with all forms of mental retardation. However, existing research on the career development of people with moderate to severe mental retardation focuses on occupational choice rather than career development (Rumrill & Roessler, 1999). Occupational choice reflects a person's vocational decision at any point in time, whereas career development reflects an ongoing, developmental process that incorporates and integrates personal and environmental information (Super, 1980; Szymanski & Hanley-Maxwell, 1996). Career development is a dynamic process that requires individuals to engage in the ongoing assessment, analysis, and synthesis of information about the world of work and self (Callahan & Gardner, 1997; Hagner & Salomone, 1989).

Career development activities that begin in the elementary school years promote career development, occupational readiness, and career resiliency among adolescents and adults who function within the moderate to severe range of mental retardation (Black & Langone, 1997; Moran, McDermott, & Butkus, 2001). Levinson, Peterson, and Elston (1994) noted that a major advantage of early career development activities for students with mental retardation is that early intervention provides ample time for vocational exploration and the acquisition of skills necessary for vocational success in a preferred occupation. In addition, career development activities may lead to increased job satisfaction and promote sustained patterns of employment among people diagnosed with mental retardation (Levinson et al., 1994; McCrea & Miller, 1999; Szymanski & Hanley-Maxwell, 1996; Wadsworth & Cocco, 2003).

Unfortunately, there has been a paucity of controlled outcome research with regard to the benefits of early career intervention for students with mental retardation. The heterogeneity of individual characteristics and the life circumstances of students with developmental disorders make it difficult to establish a causal relationship between early interventions and adult employment outcomes. Bucher, Brolin, and Kunce (1987) investigated the adult employment status of 153 students who were educable mentally retarded and 81 students who were severely learning disabled and who, as grade school students, all received a competency-based, life-centered career education curriculum developed by Brolin (1985). Completion of the career education curriculum in grade school was significantly related to the future employment levels of all students with mental retardation and of females with severe learning disabilities. More recently, Heal (1999) conducted a survey of 713 young adults who had been students in special education programs and found that career development activities such as work opportunities, the intensity of vocational preparation, and the percentage of time spent in career education courses were predictors of increased employment, self-esteem, independence, and job security.

School counselors have an important role in creating and advocating educational opportunities that have a positive long-term impact on the vocational choices available to students with mental retardation (Milsom, 2002). This article provides the rationale for, and illustrates the importance of, the role that professional school counselors have in the career development of students who are diagnosed with mental retardation. …

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