Employment for adults with Down Syndrome (DS) has been and continues to be an uphill battle, especially for those of us who live in countries that are slow to progress in relation to all things affecting persons with special needs. I live in what is categorized as a third world country and I can tell you, like molasses making its way out of a bottle, so are our steps as a country towards the employment of persons with special needs. The good news though is that other countries are actually breaking down barriers and thus providing a good template for the rest of us to follow. So, what hope do we have for our loved ones with DS in terms of employment?
University/College – The Traditional Path to Employment
The good news…there are actual university/college programs that persons with Down Syndrome can enroll in. Yes, my fellow third world countrymen, I know this mostly applies to the first world countries but hear me out. In the United States of America, for example, there is the website, “thinkcollege.net”, which lists a plethora of colleges and programs that you could seriously consider for your loved one and I would encourage you to do just that. From the moment they become teenagers, you should be checking these options out, seeing what they really have to offer. Parents/Caregivers, we have to get out there, ask questions, get a tour of the campus if you need to, speak to the program directors, lecturers, whatever you need to do to feel satisfied that the goals that your loved one needs to achieve will be met by this institution.
For those of us, who do not have these programs at our local colleges, there might still be a way for your loved one to go to college. In Jamaica, for example, companies like “Versan” and “NEVA Educational Services” help locals to acquire scholarships to study abroad. They do this for students attending regular high schools but also do this for persons with special needs. Probably a company similar to the above mentioned in your country can assist you with finding a way to get your child to college. Reach out and make contact…you never know what can happen. If college is the way forward for your family, then do your research and make it happen!
College is Not for Everyone
If we are honest, this college thing is not working out so well for some of us “normal/abled” people. How are things for you since you got that degree? A job that just pays the bills? A dead-end spirit crushing destination that seems to only hire managers that have absolutely no idea what they are doing? Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. I have nothing against school. I went. I got my degree. I believe people should be educated. I just don’t believe that we were all meant to be academics. Similarly, some of our loved ones with DS are meant to be artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, etc. and not all these careers require college…just saying.
The truth is, for many of us, it is easier to find a non-college program offering one of the aforementioned skills that our loved ones could enroll in. Are there local painting classes in your town? Have you gone over there to speak with whomever is in charge? Never underestimate the power of going in to speak with someone, explaining your situation and seeing if you can come to an understanding where your mutual needs can be met. You will be surprised at the number of people willing to give our loved ones a chance. Pottery classes, jewelry making, tie and die? What about your local café…would they be willing to give your loved one some work experience? Do you know a dance teacher who needs an assistant? Do you know a photographer or boutique owner who needs a model? I know it’s hard for us to think like entrepreneurs and see the business opportunity in everything because the truth is, this is not what we were taught in school. One of the things I have learnt about having someone with DS in my life is that they cause you to go against the grain, to think outside the box…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Push Until Something Happens
I know it seems like us caregivers must always put ourselves out there…truth is, we have to. Why? Because the path to employment is not clear cut for persons with DS. We haven’t gotten to the state where society has considered our loved ones when implementing policies on education, housing, employment, etc. We are fighting to get there and my hope is that we will, but for now we have to keep on pushing for what is best for our loved ones and that means getting out there, doing our research, walking up to various employers and advocating for our loved ones’ rights.
Also, it means ensuring that we have taught our loved ones to be polite, respectable, responsible, sociable, and kind. We should ensure that we taught them about proper hygiene and personal grooming. We should ensure that we taught them to believe in themselves and have done what we can to boost their self-confidence. We must do our part to convey the importance of independence to our loved ones. We cannot treat them as children when they are now teenagers and adults. I know that is hard as we are constantly in “protective mode” but we should let them know that we understand why they want to be independent and even if they will not get to a state of complete independence, we are there to ensure that they get as far as is possible.
So, there is hope in terms of employment for adults with Down Syndrome. It requires us, the parents/caregivers, having an understanding of our loved one’s interests and abilities and us seeking out and finding the opportunities for them to hone those interests/skills. It is possible guys! Hard but possible.