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Job Wanted: Faithful Employee for Hire

Fall 1996 - By Tom and Sherry Bushnell

The time had come: Joey was 19 years old. Homeschooled since he was 8, he had a wholesome character and was well liked in the community. In spite of the fact that he was mentally handicapped, people felt they could trust him and just something about him made you want to give him a smile of encouragement. He had learned to apply himself diligently, even to the most mundane tasks.

Joey's family enjoyed having him around the house, but felt it may be time to let him stretch his wings a little bit. Here is an inside look at what this family went through in making their decision.

Working is definitely a Biblical principle. 1 Thessalonians 3:10 states, "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that any would not work, neither should he eat."

Being idle is not healthy, and as parents already know, idle hands tend to roving minds and mischief. Idleness does not promote a Godly, wholesome life. Keeping hands and minds busy and working diligently also helps men that are still mentally boys control physical desires. This goes for boys about to be men that are not disabled too!

As mentally challenged youth reach adulthood, they may become more and more aware of their differences. Driving a car, living on their own, marrying and having children, and many other privileges of adulthood are passing them by as younger siblings are attaining these goals and they cannot.

Work produces a feeling of self worth. Not a feeling of "I'm so good," but akin to the measure of satisfaction we get when we accomplish a difficult task well. It is important that our children learn to support themselves in a God honoring way as much as they are able. They may even be aware of the added expense they are to a family, and to be able to contribute helps them feel more secure in who they are in a family.

Since Joey's seizures were under control and had been for 4 years, they felt confident that he was not a medical risk. This is an important consideration for any person entering the work force. Employers do not want to have the looming threat of having to call 911 everyday…it's not too good for business!

On the other hand, Joey did not have the stamina of a normal adult, and he did need more rest. They decided on a shorter day to start with. Joey worked in the morning when he was freshest and, after lunch, he would come home to do some quiet activities to give his mind a reprieve. Later on, if he was showing signs of increased mental strength i.e.: not getting frustrated easily, not being droopy or lazy, and being able to stay on task longer, they would consider a longer work time.

The next consideration was Joey's work environment. Joey's parents felt if they subjected Joey's easily impressed mind to the world's evil influences, such as bad language, promiscuity, unedifying music, their years of character training would be undone. And of course, Joey's spiritual walk was very important and compromising was out of the question. Along with this consideration was their concern that fellow employees may abuse Joey by teasing him or getting him angry just for fun. Joey's simple trust had been nurtured and his perspective about himself was healthy. His parents did not want to throw it away. On one hand they were not against Joey being stretched a little, by learning to forgive and forget or to have patience, but to throw him to the world would be like throwing a tender minnow to sharks.

So, first priority was finding an employer with a personal interest in Joey. Their criterion for an employer was this:

  1. A personal interest in helping Joey grow;

  2. Patience with Joey's sometimes slow comprehension and occasional stubbornness;

  3. Understanding of Joey's moods and a Christ-honoring perspective on anger management, i.e. forgiveness and not feeding anger; and

  4. Willing to motivate Joey to do well and to give very clear instructions, repeated as often as needed.

On the flip side, after a verbal interview with several business owners, they found that these were the qualities employers looking for in an employee, whether special needs or not.

  1. Honesty

  2. Good attitude – grateful

  3. On time, excited about working.

  4. Consistent in skills. Room for improvement was OK, but there should be a moving forward, not backward, in quality of work.

Joey's parents looked for an occupation that they felt Joey could do well in. Joey needed to succeed and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Starting out simple was the ticket. In fact, his first job ended up being just a short walk from home, in a neighbor's yard. This was ideal. Not only could someone from home be a job coach, but eventually weaned from a constant coach, he could be monitored from a distance and gently critiqued when needed at the end of his day.

Starting out simply is a good way to develop a good base of work habits. Bad habits die hard and consistent training in the beginning is well worth the time. For Joey, it was next door that he learned vital job skills that earned him a well deserved spot on a landscaping crew with a local business two years later.

Job training begins in the preschool years. How is this? Children, whether mentally challenged or not, need to be taught to be responsible as much as they are able in the home. Getting out of bed on time was easy for Joey, since his family was fairly scheduled anyway. For years he had gotten up early, had a decent breakfast, and been put to work doing his chores. Joey was well familiar with work and it was a pleasure for him, because his family's attitude was, "Let's work together and get this job done". Joey's parents had found that putting Joey to work on jobs that lent themselves to a routine helped Joey stay on task. If he had a specific set of jobs, done in a specific way at a particular time of day, Joey was faithful not to forget them once he was used to his task order. This gave stability to Joey's day.

When Joey was 6, he was capable of clearing the dishes and loading the dishwasher with supervision, getting the dirty clothes into the laundry room, and many other useful jobs. As Joey grew older and stronger, he was able to clean the barn, carry feed, water animals, and get the eggs in addition to household chores. There never was a time when Joey was made to feel not a big part of the positive functioning of the household. In fact he insisted on doing his part and was genuinely upset if a job that was his got done by someone else by mistake!

At age 18, Joey did best working with his father, who was self employed at the time doing free lance carpentry. Joey's job entailed picking up scraps of wood and garbage and putting them in the wheelbarrow. This is a BIG part of remodeling successfully. With supervision he also was able to sweep debris, wash windows, put the first coat of primer on boards, and many other tasks, with Dad right next to him.

When Dad changed occupations and did not have the same opportunities for providing a suitable work environment, Joey's next best work environment was when a brother or sister was working as job coach with him. Often a younger sister was sent to work alongside Joey next door gardening. Joey learned to weed around specific plants, carry weed to the compost bin, rake leaves and windfalls, and use the blower to clean off the driveway. He was not ready to do mowing or pruning, apply sprays or fertilizer or weed delicate seedlings or plants that were hard to tell apart.

Here are some suggestions you may find helpful in finding a healthy work environment: A farm setting is naturally full of good hard work that with a little supervision can be accomplished with success:

  • Pull weeds around buildings, some picking of produce

  • Carrying boxes or things from one place to another.

  • Bringing refreshment to other workers. This is always appreciated!

  • Sorting fruit or vegetables by size or color, cleaning out stalls and replacing animal bedding, sweeping the barn, feeding and watering animals with help. The list can go on and on.

Shop work also lends itself to a number of chores easily done:

  • General sweeping and cleaning with supervision

  • Pick up scraps of metal or wood

  • Sort nails, screw or bolts, moving lumber from one location to another

Finding a landscape contractor that is willing to have some enthusiastic help may not be as hard as you think. Here is a list of jobs Joey can do:

  • Raking, shoveling and digging with supervision

  • Packing lawn sod that comes in rolls to the layers

  • Weeding ground cover

  • Fetching some tools off the truck and returning them when not needed

  • Moving flats of plants to the planting site off the truck

  • Roughing up the ground to prepare it for lawn seeding

A bakery has many jobs and may prove to be a suitable work place.

  • Washing cookie sheets and other pans

  • Moving trays and baked goods from one place to another

  • Taking cookies off tray

  • Sweeping, mopping, cleaning counters

  • Turning the crank of a grinder or noodle press

How about packing for a local business?

  • Counting nuts and bolts. If counting is out of their league, make a template out of wood or cardboard with the required number of holes. When the bolts fill the holes, they get dumped into the bag!

  • Bagging up items

Jobs can even be found in an office that can make young mentally challenged adults feel useful:

  • Stuffing and sealing envelopes

  • Taking out the garbage

  • Vacuuming

  • Running items from one place to another. "Please take Mrs. Sans this envelope, and then come back." (Mrs. Sans may need to remind him!)

Some jobs may not be as pleasant or as noble as others. If young adults are leaning toward grumbling or feeling left out, often just taking time and working along side them for a bit is encouraging and is a good way to motivate them.

The most important aspect Joey's parents found in finding a job that worked for their son was communication with potential employers. Once a job was chosen for Joey and a job coach established, continued communication was vital to Joey staying healthy emotionally and keeping happy.

Working within the community and establishing good work habits in the home removes the need for intervention from public institutions for training. Our special needs youth and mentally normal children can and should be trained to work well in the home first and then with Christians in the community.

As many employers can attest, instead of doing a favor for a mentally challenged employee, they feel that they, as employers, are actually on the receiving end and are glad to hire a happy, hard working young adult.

Working at home is the best place to learn to work "heartily unto the Lord" and for some of our children the only appropriate place they ever will. This is great.

The idea that our children have to find some functioning role in the community or their life is a loss is wrong. God puts children in families, not the work force. If He has provided a child he loves an adult body and a child mind, He is glorified when they are functioning as an obedient child, working at home. It is society that paints the idea that once a child turns 18, they must live away from parents, not the Lord.

Sometimes the idea of living with a disabled child for the rest of his or her life is overwhelming to parents. Feeling trapped and bitter is an awful perspective of the future. This is the sad cause of divorce among non-Christian homes.

It is important to seek the Lord for wisdom and to be in agreement as husband and wife when decisions about the future regarding special needs children need to be made. Momentary frustration or a bad financial year can negatively influence decisions. Separation happens as part of life. Children are placed in group home situations or foster homes and adoption disruptions, to name just a few. Even in the lives of our normal children, separation eventually occurs. Separation or a different living arrangement may not necessarily be wrong for our special needs children, but the idea that it MUST come for all children is wrong.

The best place for adult children to be trained for outside work is the home. The best place for severely disabled children who cannot function in a job is the home.