Road to Success: Helping Young Adults with Learning Disabilities Plan and Prepare for Employment
Johnson, D. Richard, Mellard, Daryl F., Lancaster, Paula, Teaching Exceptional Children
U.S. schools expend a great deal of energy preparing children and youth wilh disabilities "to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum exlent possible" in compliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; Public Law 108-446; p. 3). Yet, despite supporting federal legislation, research on effective practices, and ,in emphasis on interagency collaboration, progress in creating effective, comprehensive transition services has been slow (Johnson & Sharpe, 2000; Johnson, Stodden, Emanuel, Luecking, & Mack, 2002). Clearly, adolescents with learning disabilities (LD) can be difficult to engage in the learning process, and they are often ill-prepared to succeed in high school and beyond [Swanson & Deshler, 2003). Before exiting school, many of these students evidence performance and adjustment problems, such as higher rates of absenteeism, lower grade-point averages, higher course failure rates, more prevalent feelings of low self-esteem, and higher rates of inappropriate social behaviors than in the general population of students (Schumaker, 1992; Wagner. Blackorby, & Hebbeler, 1993). Those outcomes can lead one to question whether the educational system has used the best methods in teaching these students. Further, one may also wonder. What will these students' success be as they begin participating as adults in the workforce and community?
Regardless of their readiness, most young adults witli disabilities-over half of whom reported having LD-transitioned into employment within 2 years of leaving school (Wagner, Newman, Cameto. & Levine. 20OS). The recent National Longitudinal TYansition Study2 (NLTS-2) described the experiences of youth (ages 15-19) with disabilities during the first 2 years after exiting from school and found that 75% of this population engaged in post secondary education, job training, or employment (Wagner et ai., 2005). Of those individuals engaged in these three activities, 60% participated solely in employment, 35% were employed and enrolled in post secondary education or job training programs, and 5% were enrolled solely in postsecondary education or job training programs (Wagner et al., 2005).
Despite the number of youth with disabilities who enter employment after completing secondary education, the judgment of the National Council on Disability is that "the Department of Education transition initiative has not met with the degree of success expected, hoped and needed" (NCD, 2000, p. 1). In fact, less than 5% were employed throughout the entire 2-year post-graduation period addressed by the NLTS-2 (Wagner et al., 2005). Moreover, many of the youth reported holding several jobs for only brief periods: 27% of youth with disabilities held a job for 2 months or less, 35% held employment for only 2.1 to 6 months, and only about 8% worked for 12.1 to 24 months IWagner et al., 2005). This pattern of brief periods of employment may be due, in part, to the tendency of youth, while still in school, to hold temporary jobs that end shortly thereafter (Wagner et al., 2005). With regard to individuals with LD, little research exists that investigates their longer-term employment experiences (Gerber, Price. Mulligan, & Shessel. 2004).
The NLTS-2 data indicated youth with disabilities faced significant barriers and had limited success transitioning to sustained employment. One consistently identified barrier to successful transition for youth with disabilities was poor social skills (i.e., inadequate psychosocial adjustment and problems with interpersonal relationships with peers, teachers, and employers that lead to disciplinary actions at school, being fired from a job, or even being arrested). Furthermore, youth with disabilities infrequently communicated and advocated their own interests and needs. Only 16% ïß youth with disabilities exhibited high social skills, whereas 22% had markedly low social skills (Wagner et al., 2005). At a minimum, this 22% of youth with disabilities needed more purposeful instruction, focused content, and practice with the skills required to obtain and sustain employment. …