Preparing a Teen Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired with Multiple Disabilities for Work: Provide the Teen with Opportunities to Be the Helper

A teenager in a suit and tie reads his notes, preparing for a job interview.

Your teenage son, daughter, student, or consumer who is visually impaired with multiple disabilities has likely been “the one the classmates help”, “the one the siblings help”, and “the one the parents help”. Thus, he internalizes “I am the one who needs help” and “People are here to help me.”

Let me be the first to say I need help on many activities. When my internet goes down, I quickly ask my husband for help. When I’m rearranging furniture, I ask for a hand. When I’m learning a new skill, I ask for guidance and feedback. Everybody needs help, and that is more than okay…it’s healthy.

What becomes unhealthy and inaccurate, however, is thinking you have nothing to offer others. Or thinking your role is only to receive help. Or thinking you will always need help with everything. Or thinking others are only here to help you.

Therefore, in order to foster self-confidence, competence, care and concern for others, and an understanding of mutually beneficial relationships in the person with a visual impairment and multiple disabilities, intentionally provide the individual with opportunities to help others. Of course, tailor the opportunities to the specific abilities of the individual.

Here are a handful of ideas for giving the individual, we’ll call her Maggie, opportunities to help:

  • Ask Maggie to help with tasks around the house or classroom, such as tidying up, dusting, filling water glasses, preparing snacks, or folding clothing.
  • Ask Maggie to deliver a note to the office in an Orientation and Mobility lesson.
  • Ask Maggie to help hold or stabilize an item.
  • A classmate can ask Maggie to help make a choice, gather supplies, or provide feedback.
  • If she uses sign language, Maggie can demonstrate sign language to her class.
  • Maggie can teach her classmates about braille or using a magnifier.
  • The classroom teacher can ask Maggie to be an example. With Maggie in front of her peers, the teacher can ask the class to perform something “like Maggie is demonstrating”. The teacher can thank Maggie for her demonstration.

The 6th edition of Instruction of Students with Severe Disabilities by Martha Snell and Fredda Brown provides the following suggestions for enlisting the help of the student with multiple disabilities:

  • Provide the student with regular opportunities to listen to younger children read.
  • Ask the student to pass out materials to the class.
  • When the student has special skills, the teacher can create a specific classroom role for the individual. For example, if the individual is a gifted speller, she can answer the students spelling questions.
  • The individual can be a mentor or helper with a preschool class.

Simply be mindful to incorporate opportunities for “Maggie” to help. Teach her that she can help others, that she has something to offer others, and that the class helps each other. Let “Maggie” see that she receives help, and she is a helper.

Learn how to build your teen’s social skills in Preparing a Teen Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired with Multiple Disabilities for Work: Utilizing Peers to Provide Guidance in Social Skills