The Road Ahead For Special Needs Kids: Aging Out of School

ArcBARKS 2Although we continue to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes of our special needs kids, as they age out of school there are a whole new set of challenges ahead of them – and us. Many high-functioning individuals are very employable, and training and vocational programs may prepare some young adults for jobs. Others are lucky enough to be born into a family business which is familiar and comfortable and for which they have been training literally their entire lives. Some families get creative and start businesses based on the strengths and talents of their members with special needs.

Some of these businesses are small, operating out of a basement or even on the kitchen table. Some go on to bigger things, like Emma Lynam in Australia, who thanks to her mother is now the “Master Shredder.” Emma’s low reading level guarantees that she won’t be spying on her clients’ sensitive documents before destroying them. ArcBarks is a dog treat company in North Carolina started by a mom to give her son and others like him a productive way to use their time. Their treats are now sold in over 150 locations and online.

Rising Tide3Rising Tide car wash first caught my eye a few years ago. The family has taken their successful car wash beyond a local business that employs people on the spectrum. They are now doing speaking engagements and, through their Rising Tide U, offering presentations and information on how to start a business using the talents of people with autism, although the information would be useful for any other syndrome or diagnosis.

If you are not lucky enough to live near any wonderful programs or services you can still work on helping your special needs child (or teen or adult) gain skills that will lead to independence or even employment. Take an inventory of the skills this individual has mastered. Also take note of any passions – would this person be more willing to bake for people, or would knowing these treats were destined for dogs be an additional motivation? What chores does this individual do at home, and is it something others would be willing to pay for? A dad in Canada gets his nonverbal son hired to build IKEA furniture for people! What is in demand in your area – snow shoveling? Dog walking?

Another way to get training that can lead to employment is through volunteering. This also helps get the individual out into the community and avoids the issue of losing benefits if too much money is earned. An animal rescue in my area allows children to volunteer as long as a parent is with them (and as long as that parent signs a waiver, of course). Community events also offer training in Rising Tideplanting, landscaping and other activities that can translate to job skills. Donating items that are either gathered or made to charities can also be a tax deduction that may help the family finances.

Many parents and families of people with special needs find that working from home or running their own business also allows them the flexibility needed to handle appointments, therapy sessions or health challenges. It can be a challenging road but some people are finding creative, brilliant ways of navigation.

About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie has also served as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner. She can be reached at Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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