Finishing the Challenged Race

Over and over as we travel the state meeting with families whose children have various learning challenges, we hear the question, “What do we do about graduation?” The answer to that question varies with the situation, and, quite honestly, there are no easy answers. However, we hear ourselves asking parents the same set of questions in each circumstance, and those seem to be universal themes, regardless of the student’s challenge or future plans. While it is not an exhaustive list, we offer those questions and some thoughts on them for your study, in the hopes that they will prompt further discussion and prayer regarding high school and beyond for the challenged students you may know.

Independent Living

Will this young adult be able someday to live alone?

If not, which safety and self-help skills can be developed in order to improve quality of life both for the young adult and for the caregiver?

If the plan is for the young person eventually to live independently, consider the need for developing skills in the following areas:

    • self-care (hygiene, clothing care, etc.)
    • housekeeping
    • meal preparation and food safety

money management

  • interacting with outside providers such as landlords, utility companies, salespeople, telephone solicitors, and people at the door


Social Skills

Does this young adult interact appropriately in social settings?

Does he have understanding friends, both typical and challenged peers? Or is he totally dependent on family for social interaction?

Can she interact appropriately with strangers?

Does he read nonverbal social cues, or does he need help developing that skill?

Is her language understandable? Does she need practice communicating with strangers in unfamiliar situations?

Work Related Skills

What does this young adult want to do in his work life?

What skills are necessary to perform that job? If his expectations are outside his exhibited capabilities, can you redirect those intentions into something similar? For example, could someone who might struggle in veterinary school be encouraged to study to be a veterinary assistant?

If the young person is not yet sure about what to do, emphasize the positive. Find areas in which he already exhibits strengths, and work toward developing those strengths into marketable skills.

An Academic Future?

What will your young adult do after high school?

What does your young person want to do? Is everyone involved in this decision being reasonable in their expectations for the future? Is college essential for what he will do in the future, or is there just an assumption in your family or circle of friends that college is “what everyone does” after high school? Is it necessary? The young person’s motivation is a key factor in making these decisions. Your opinion, while valid and worthwhile, should not be the deciding factor.

Is trade school in the picture? What about apprenticeship? Is college a possibility or a necessity for the future vocation? Work backwards—find out what skills must be in place in order to gain entrance into the intended program, and work toward developing those skills. If an academic program is a possibility, work toward independence in study skills, test-taking, and interaction with authority figures (such as professors). If trade school or apprenticeship is the goal, aim for safety skills or other appropriate skills.

Begin to direct this young adult toward as much independence as it is reasonable to expect. Encourage choices and teach decision-making. Offer options, and guide toward reasonable results, but remember that, to the extent that it is reasonable to assume that this young person can have some level of autonomy, it is your job to move him in that direction.

Finally, do not hold to the notion that eighteen is a magic age. You can work with your young person to develop a plan with a definite end in sight, but it can extend as far as you believe it will be necessary to work to achieve the goals you establish together. If social pressure to graduate at eighteen is a major factor in the decision, agree together to hold a ceremony, then continue working until goals are met for reaching the next level.

This has by no means been an exhaustive list. Our purpose is not to give you answers but rather to encourage you to think far enough down the road to know where your young person wants to go. You can then ask yourselves the right questions to find your own answer to that major question, “How do we know when we are finished?” You are finished when you have helped this young adult map a plan for the future and make the necessary preparations for reaching those goals.