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Youth in Transition Toolkit:


Activate families

Setting high expectations

Help families set high expectations for their youth.

High parental expectations and active parental involvement in transition planning are key indicators of positive post-school outcomes. Communicate and model high expectations for the youth you support, and encourage families to do the same.

LEARN: Develop your knowledge

Learn about the importance of families having high expectations for youth.

"Expectations are 'quick predictions' about how much value someone's contributions will add to the task at hand. If the value of someone's contributions is predicted to be high, that person will receive more opportunities to contribute." (Esther Quintero, 2014)

Expectations are quick assumptions about what another person or group of people can accomplish. People do this all the time, often subconsciously, as a way to order their world. Think about some of your own quick assumptions. For example, what do you assume when you see an elderly person driving or a short person playing basketball? Do you make quick assumptions about how well they can do the task at hand?

Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often subject to other people's negative assumptions. People may assume that a person in a wheelchair can't be a construction worker or a person with autism can't hold a position of high responsibility in a company. Though these assumptions are false, we can still be trapped by them.

Families receive negative messages about children with disabilities from early on. A well-meaning doctor might suggest a newborn will never be able to do certain things. A child might be placed in a separate education setting based on their disability, highlighting to the family that the child is different from others the same age. Friends and family might try to be helpful by saying there are great programs for "those types of people."

When families are bombarded with messages about "can't" or "won't," it's no wonder families tend to modify their expectations downward. To combat this trend, families must recognize the skills and talents their children possess and then begin setting a vision based on those things — not what other people think or assume.

People with all types of disabilities work in the community in a wide variety of jobs. Many youth with significant disabilities have opportunities to attend college programs or to further their education and obtain the skills needed for employment. We see people with disabilities living independently (with or without supports), owning homes, having families, and living the lives they envision for themselves. Families, self-advocates, disability advocates and policy makers are working to break down the walls that once kept people with significant disabilities from being fully included in society.

It's important for you to help families realize the possibilities — and to avoid putting unnecessary barriers in the way of employment possibilities.

Families tend to set the bar for how the rest of the world sees their child. If families express doubt about their child's ability to work or contribute, that may be what others believe as well. But if families convey an expectation that their child will do what all adults are expected to do, everyone is clear on the goal.

High expectations are also helpful in other ways. If youth are expected to work and contribute, they may avoid unnecessarily restrictive program options, such as sheltered work or day programs. Youth who have high expectations set for them tend to live as connected members of the community and make choices based on their dreams and goals. Rather than catastrophic, they see risks and failures as opportunities for growth.

It's important to acknowledge the balancing act we're asking of parents. They're expected to reconcile the fact that their child has a disability with the belief that the child can achieve success in employment and other areas. This is often challenging when education and service systems identify deficits or needs rather than a person's natural talents and skills. Ultimately, families are the keeper of the vision for their child's future.

Society expects youth to achieve certain artificially created milestones as they move into adulthood. For example, it's expected that a person will graduate from high school around age 18, go to college or complete job training, find a job in their chosen field, start a family, and so on. Families of youth with disabilities may be disappointed if their child doesn't meet milestones at the same pace as their peers. Encourage families to set aside artificial deadlines for achievement and instead be patient while celebrating small successes along the way.

Success looks different for everyone. For one person, success might mean taking public transportation to work by themselves. For another, success might be working 5 hours a week or learning to fold towels. Families know their child better than anyone else, and will know when their child is doing their best and demonstrating new skills. Encourage families to frame success as personal growth rather than a comparison to others.

DO: Work with families

Share resources families can use to promote high expectations.

The PACER Center has compiled a list of seven strategies and 13 activities professionals can use in partnership with families to promote high expectations for post-school success for young adults with disabilities: Promoting high expectations for post-school success by family members: A "to do" list for professionals (PDF). While this list is not meant to be shared with families directly, you can use it to find ideas for working with families.

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