HomeLearning DifficultiesHealth & DevelopmentLife After High School

Is there life after high school? A primer for teens with learning disorders

Page 3 of 4

By Linda Broatch, M.A.

How parents can guide and support transition

Because successful transition relies on a clear understanding of a young person's interests, strengths, and areas of struggle, parents play a key role in helping to insure a successful transition for a young person with learning disabilities. With parents' help, a child can:

  • Become more aware of their learning strengths and needs, and use their strengths to overcome or bypass areas of weakness
  • Learn to better advocate for themselves in school and work settings, by developing a clear sense of how their strengths contribute to school or work success, and which adaptations or technology increase their effectiveness
  • Explore career interests and aptitudes in the "real world," through volunteer, summer, and part-time work
  • Learn to be flexible and persistent, not allowing an occasional set-back or disappointment to throw them off course

A young person's career path may not always be as direct or smooth as parents would like.  When parents are open and flexible, it provides a young person a valuable opportunity to figure out, through trial and error, which pursuits he'll find personally satisfying.  For example, a young adult might go to work after high school in a nursing home, decide after a year or two to get his certification as an emergency medical technician or licensed vocational nurse, and then return to work with more responsibility and better pay. Another might start a four-year college program in electrical engineering and discover that he's not sufficiently motivated to complete all the high-level math and science courses. In the meantime, he may have discovered that he gets great satisfaction from diagnosing problems and making repairs to computer hardware, and may enter a two-year college or vocational training program to build his job skills in this area. 

Regardless of the particular path to employment and living independently, research has identified some factors associated with success among adults with learning difficulties. According to a study by Paul Gerber, Rick Ginsberg, and Henry Reiff5, control is the key to success for adults with learning disabilities. Control, in the context of this research, means that a person makes conscious decisions to take charge of his life and to adapt himself as necessary in order to move ahead. The researchers discovered that this control fell into two main categories:

  • Internal decisions. A person must want to succeed, must set achievable goals, and must confront his learning difficulties so that he can take appropriate actions to increase the likelihood of success.
  • External manifestations (adaptability). Successful adults with learning disabilities engaged in certain practices that helped foster control and success, such as persistence, finding work that is "a good fit" for their skills and abilities, strategies to enhance performance, and surrounding oneself with supportive, helpful people.

Clearly, parents can and do play a role in encouraging and supporting the development of these attitudes and strategies in their children, throughout childhood and adolescence.

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.

Comments from readers

"What would be the best state to live in for special needs teenage children with learning disabilities that will need future services after house school?"