Angela Mahoney is an educator and author who plays a pivotal role in supporting and preparing her special needs students for active and contributing roles in their communities. As she states, “I believe it is time to break the mold of what a job or employment looks like. I truly feel it is about looking at the task at hand and breaking it into pieces to fit the strengths of each individual person”.
Participating in, and contributing to, our communities has a tremendous impact on our well-being and sense of self. Can you comment on the importance of these experiences for special needs adolescents and young adults?
Over the years as an educator I have witnessed the true benefits of community-based learning for special needs adolescents and young adults. When you take what has been taught or introduced in the classroom or home environment and apply it directly to hands-on opportunities in a variety of settings it allows young adults to “get their feet wet”. This process not only creates a foundation of life skills, it also builds confidence for community and workplace success! I believe all individuals deserve a positive sense of self and I know the students I work with have a desire to be contributing members of society. With access to guided community experiences and varied learning situations everyone can experience this!
Your book I Can Work is a strong endorsement for being open to discovering what is possible and respecting individual contexts and capabilities. Can you describe how this attitude and approach impacts what is possible in education and vocation for special needs kids?
Discovering what is possible and respecting individual contexts and capabilities requires patience, understanding and an open mind. Patience to take the time to introduce and track a variety of job skills in a range of environments. Understanding when problem solving, challenging situations or specific needs arise and asking questions such as: ‘How can this be presented differently’? ‘How can we improve this situation’? ‘Is this right for the individual I am supporting?’ And finally, keeping an open mind. The vision you have in mind might not be what the individual desires or needs, yet the path in place doesn't change. By remaining open minded new ideas begin to flow and challenges quickly become solutions.
I believe it is time to break the mold of what a job or employment looks like. I truly feel it is about looking at the task at hand and breaking it into pieces to fit the strengths of each individual person. Take the time to learn what each adolescent or young adult does well and has a passion for, then assign specific pieces within the overall task and then watch the success unfold!
In addition to your background in education and teaching, you have created and developed a specific focus to your work that is fueled by a passion to help kids “feel successful”. Can you describe the motivation you have for the work you do?
Recently while shopping at a local grocery store, I ran into a former student I had taught over 10 years ago. I couldn’t believe that the adolescent I had taught in middle school, who like many of my students, faced a unique set of challenges, was now a successfully employed young adult. As soon as we said hello I could see the pride and confidence beaming from him as he assisted me with my purchase. He was professional and exuded skill with care. As I turned to leave, he shared how he remembered the specific learning skills for employment in a grocery setting during my work skills class. I couldn’t believe it! Those small fragments of work-readiness tasks and lessons in his early years really did build a foundation of confidence! This realization underscored my passion for helping adolescents and young adults build career-readiness skills and experience success.
Meeting this former student in his current workplace solidified my focus and motivation for educating professionals and parents about the crucial need for pre-vocational planning. Pre-vocational planning is designed to prepare individuals for a successful transition to meaningful, paid work in the community. It commonly involves training in the basic work skills that are required for a typical employment setting. I advocate for early intervention that is coordinated to promote age-appropriate growth during the critical years of middle school - ages 11-14. A ‘pre-vocational’ intervention, if you will, to build that skill base and also accessible to all!