Planning For Independence

 Career Planning / Work Education


The exploration of possible career choices is a very important aspect of the education of all students. These students, however, whose learning rate is slower and whose ability to make generalizations less developed than that of other students, need more opportunities to practise work-related skills in the classroom and the community.

In the elementary years, good work habits and attitudes are developed through an emphasis on punctuality and the satisfactory completion of tasks. Participation in regular classroom routines (e.g., watering plants, feeding pets, cleaning chalkboards) can help students to develop positive and responsible work habits. Stories about people in a variety of careers form part of the environmental studies curriculum.

Secondary school students begin to explore career options more systematically in consultation with the guidance department. Their programs may include cooperative education and work experience. They may also choose to develop skills and knowledge in business studies, technological studies, or the arts, with a view to possible future careers.

Teenage students should be provided with workrelated experiences in various kinds of environments, both in school and in the community. Such experiences help to both pinpoint and develop students' vocational strengths. Their reading, writing, oral language, and mathematics skills can then be developed to suit the needs of the community and the workplace.

Students also need to develop the social skills required for successful job placement. The ability to interact appropriately with peers, fellow workers, and employers in a variety of settings starts with the social skills learned in the classroom and the community.

Students should be helped to explore a variety of options that may lead to meaningful employment in the community on graduation. Careers discussed can include semiskilled and unskilled jobs, as well as jobs with high academic requirements. Teachers should be responsive to students' individual preferences and strengths.

As a student approaches school-leaving age, cooperation among the school, the student's f amily, community agencies, and potential employers is essential to the student's smooth transition to the work environment. Options such as work in a regular workplace, supported work placements, and sheltered placements should be explored.

The Planning Cycle

Assessment and Development

In the first two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • identify students' career preferences and interests through observations and conversation;
  • identify students' job-related social, physical, and cognitive abilities;
  • involve parents in their children's long-range career planning;
  • work closely with community agencies and employers to survey job possibilities and to inform employers of students' potential;
  • design realistic goals for students based on individual capabilities and employer expectations.

Implementation and Evaluation

In the last two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • begin career education early, targeting skills that will be useful in a variety of work settings (e.g., punctuality, productivity, initiative, persistence, concentration);
  • include specific training in job-related interpersonal skills;
  • provide motivating and meaningful work-related experiences at school;
  • have students test out school-based learning in community settings, with varying personnel, conditions, and expectations;
  • provide students with opportunities to acquire experience in various kinds of appropriate jobs;
  • allow for interaction and training with non-disabled peers where possible;
  • provide special equipment and support personnel for workplaces where students would otherwise be unable to participate;
  • increase the percentage of time that is spent in natural work settings as students approach the school-leaving age;
  • monitor and assess student progress carefully, evaluating the contributions of school personnel, employers, and parents as well as the achievement of the students; - develop, for each student, a portfolio of work placements and evaluations to be passed on to potential employers;
  • provide opportunities for students to participate in co-operative education programs and school-to-work transition programs.


Ontario. Ministry of Education. Career Week Is Every Week. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1988.

_____. Co-operative Education: Policies and Procedures for Ontario Secondary Schools. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1989.

_____. Guidance, Intermediate and Senior Divisions. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1984.

_____. One Step at a Time: Educational and Career Explorations, Intermediate Division (Grades 7 and 8). Support Document. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1984.

_____. Personal Life Management, Intermediate and Senior Divisions. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1985.

Ontario. Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour. Bridges to Employment for Students With Disabilities: A Resource Guide for School-to-Work Transition (SWT) Programs. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1988.

Wehman, Paul, and McLaughlin, Phillip J. Vocational Curriculum for Developmentally Disabled Persons. Baltimore: University Park, 1980.

Case Study - Elementary Level

Student Profile Maria is a twelve-year-old with autistic tendencies. She is independent in basic self-care skills, such as feeding, toileting, and dressing. She has no spoken language; communicates her needs by gesture, physical touch, and sounds; and understands simple two- to three-word sentences. Maria likes to listen to music with headphones and to do finemotor activities such as puzzles and Lego. She sometimes engages in rocking and head banging. Her parents wish to begin long-range vocational planning for her.

Learning Environment Maria attends a special education class in a senior public school. In order to remain on task, she requires individualized attention from the teacher or an educational assistant.

Expected Learning Outcomes Maria is expected to:

  • assist the school office staff in short, meaningful tasks requiring fine-motor dexterity (e.g., stapling notices, stuffing envelopes);
  • complete tasks in the workshops at school (e.g., sanding, using a screwdriver) and, by the end of the school year, perform these tasks independently for periods of ten minutes at a time.

Student Program Maria is being provided with opportunities to:

  • increase her on-task behaviour by completing short tasks at intervals during the day (the length and complexity of the tasks is gradually increased, and concrete reinforcements such as listening to music are gradually replaced by more abstract reinforcements such as verbal praise);
  • develop her communication gestures so that she can make herself understood at home, at school, and in the community;
  • co-operate with another person in such activities as collating three papers and stapling or folding them, stuffing envelopes, and putting stamps on envelopes;
  • develop a better sense of one-to-one correspondence by placing one stamp on an envelope, one paper in an envelope, and so on.

Case Study - Secondary Level

Student Profile Jean-Marc is a sociable nineteen-yearold with Down syndrome. He speaks in short sentences and reads about seventy words in context. He counts by rote to 100 and performs numerical operations to 10. He can purchase items that cost up to $1.00, but he cannot make change. He tells time to the hour and half-hour. He is very tidy and likes to clean the classroom. He also enjoys preparing food and has expressed interest in working as a busboy or assistant in a restaurant. He has difficulty in remaining on task.

Learning Environment Jean-Marc attends a small special education centre that emphasizes life skills and the transition from school to adult life. Every day at lunch time he assists with such tasks as serving food and cleaning tables and floors. He is also being provided with workexperience trials in local restaurants, with a view to his eventually taking on a supported work placement.

Expected Learning Outcomes jean-Marc is expected to develop the social and vocational skills necessary for suc cessful work placement in the community.

Student Program Jean-Marc is being provided with opportunities to:

  • develop work skills, such as following directions and functioning efficiently and productively in his work placements;
  • visit work settings to find out the hours, pay, and working conditions of potential jobs;
  • increase his ability to travel independently to job placements;
  • extend, through role playing or modelling, his workrelated language (to include job-related jargon and the elements of adult social conversation) and his ability to ask for help on the job, take a job interview, and talk to customers;
  • read words that he will need to recognize if he works in a cafeteria or restaurant, including warning labels, words on menus, the names of hazardous products, and the words on job application forms;
  • prepare to fill out job-application forms by practising his signature and address (sometimes with the aid of a computer, which helps him to improve his spelling of important personal words);
  • learn to tell time, so that he can be punctual, understand clocking in and out, and time his lunch and coffee breaks;
  • refine his money-handling skills by using a vending machine, purchasing his lunch, and banking his earnings;
  • learn the importance of personal hygiene (e.g., showering, using deodorant, wearing appropriate clothing, using an apron in the cafeteria, following hygienic procedures in the kitchen).

Community Living Skills


Learning community living skills is critical for students because such skills will enable them to adapt to and live in the community independently and successfully. The key to learning community living skills is practice in reallife situations. If students are to develop the social and economic competence necessary to function independently, their programs must give them opportunities to integrate into the community.

A key feature of community-living-skills programs is decision making - that is, learning to identify problems, to decide on plans of action, and to accept the consequences of the chosen actions.

Community living skills can be taught in all grades and in a number of program areas. For the younger student, community awareness is emphasized through excursions in the community -excursions that involve, for example, observing community helpers in action or purchasing items for use in the classroom.

For the older student, community living experiences can be provided through consumer studies and personallifemanagement courses. Students require individualized, community-focused programs that include activities such as shopping for goods and services, using public transportation, using financial services, and selecting appropriate support services.

Experiences for students with multiple needs may include opportunities for sensory and social stimulation from sounds and sights in the community.

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