Knowing when to change direction, when to brake and when to accelerate as you support a person with an intellectual disability ever closer to holding a position of employment takes clarity yet flexibility.

Many parents, teachers, coaches and leaders would empathise I’m sure.

As an employer, I know what I need from Madi (via her Job Description and my long term vision) but that longer term plan could be overwhelming if laid out straight away.

It is far more likely that the whole process for Madi and Starfish will be successful if we break it into smaller achievable goals. As Madi reaches these goals, we can then set then next goal (make adjustments). If we find that Madi is picking a skill up quickly, then we move faster.

Madi is a pricing gun Jedi.

For example, one of the staff jobs is to price items. Madi is a master of the pricing gun. She took instruction and feedback on early, and never makes a mistake. Bam. Done. Move onto next job (skill).

However, Madi struggles being put on the spot answering the telephone. This is partly due to Madi needing processing time, becoming anxious under pressure and party because it is hard to predict the reason someone might be calling Starfish. This makes it difficult to prepare for every eventuality. We have had to slow this part of Madi’s training down. It remains part of the long term vision for Madi though. This is because as a small business this is one of the things identified in the job description that is a “must have”.

Madi practicing answering the phone.

I recently read a quote from Autism Parenting magazine saying

“the central struggle of raising a child with special needs is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears”.

I think it mirrors the balance needed when employing someone with intellectual disabilities. The struggle to hold small goals that are realistic (to have success and avoid frustration and failure) YET not be limited by those small goals. Having realistic yet flexible and ever morphing hopes, both daily and long term. All whilst guarding against having those very same hopes dashed because they were based on unreasonable expectations.

Being able to keep one hand on the wheel (and a foot on the brake or accelerator) whilst keeping an eye on where you’re heading is a good metaphor.

It is not hard.

It is so worth it.

Want to learn more about employing someone with intellectual disabilities, the things we’ve found to be crucial (and at times surprising) to making “it” work so well for us? We’ve put together a series of posts so everyone who needs this information can easily access it.

  • The Accidental Employer: the back story of how we came to employ someone with an intellectual disability
  • Perfect Match: getting the right fit
  • Savvy Collaboration: Communication with ALL the key players
  • Taking the Pressure off: when employing someone with Autism and Intellectual disabilities.
  • Eye on the road but hand on the wheel: having flexible goals when employing people with disabilities.
  • Longing to Belong: truly inclusive practice at work
  • Teach then train: best way to push beyond the present
  • Routines = Success: for independence, confidence and learning new skills
  • A moment with Emily: a sister’s perspective
  • A moment with Janelle: a family’s experience of the process
  • A moment with Julie: observations from The Disability Trust Business Development Officer