Examples of Natural Supports
- Getting rides with co-workers to and from work
- Allowing employee to work in a quieter area
- Following a written or visual list of job duties available to every employee
- Mentoring relationships with co-worker or supervisor
- Involving co-workers as job trainers
- Having co-workers or supervisors cue when it is break time
- Using an existing scheduling system to increase productivity
- Getting feedback on work performance by supervisor
What Does It Mean to Support Success On the Job?
Almost all of us benefit from having some sort of support on the job-occasional help from a co-worker, targeted training from a supervisor, or a particular piece of equipment or technology that makes some part of the job a little easier. Like everyone else, young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) will also benefit from strong supports. The difference is that support often has to be more intentional, more lasting, and more carefully planned.
Most employers already provide a host of supports, resources, or assistance to their employees. These supports are often referred to as natural supports because they already exist in the workplace and may be available to anyone who works there (see examples in the box below). Helping employees with disabilities access these natural supports is an important aspect of promoting success. These supports are usually low cost, sustainable, and easy to implement.
In addition to accessing natural supports, young people with IDD are likely to benefit from a more formal support system, such as a job coach, who provides additional support needed to promote success. Early on, this support may be more intensive. But the goal is to eventually fade back that support so employees can become more independent on the job.
Why Are the Supports We Provide to Young People So Important to Their Success?
Drawing upon natural supports in the workplace is an important aspect of helping young people to thrive in their chosen job. Drawing upon natural supports can help a person be more fully integrated within the workplace, it can facilitate the development of social relationships, and it can build a more sustainable system of support. Of course, natural supports can sometimes be less expensive and more readily accessible. Although a job coach or employment specialist is often needed to supplement these supports, employers and co-workers should always be encouraged to take an active role in supporting their fellow employees with IDD. After all, they know the expectations and requirements of the job better than anyone else.
How Do I Support Success?
The process of identifying the supports a person will need to be successful on the job should be ongoing. But the particular supports best for a given employee will vary from one person to the next. Take time to determine what each young person needs in order to be successful in the workplace. Make sure to write these down and document what supports would help them. Families should be included in the conversation as well. Do they work better with no distraction? Are they hesitant to socialize with others? Sometimes, a person may not know how to ask for and access these supports. Teach them how to reflect on and advocate for their own needs within the workplace. At the same time, make sure employers are aware of these needs. Keep in mind: the more involved the employer in the process, the better.
Where Can I Learn More About Supporting Young People in the Workplace?
The following links include strategies and resources related to providing support to young people with IDD in the workplace:
- TennesseeWorks Job Coaching Guide
- Customized Employment Q & A
- What Are Natural Supports and How Can They Be Utilized in my Client’s Work Environment?
- Effective Training for Employment Consultants: Job Development and Support Strategies
- Customized Employment: Practical Solutions for Employment Success
- Support Through Mentorship: Accessible Supervision of Employees with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
What Research Has Addressed Supports in the Workplace?
Many studies and conceptual papers have highlighted the ways in which both natural and formal supports can be drawn upon to promote success on the job for employees with IDD. Below is a selection from recent journal articles addressing this topic:
- Hughes, C., & Carter, E.W. (2011). Transition supports: Equipping youth for adult life. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 35, 177-180. doi: 10.3233/JVR-2011-0567.
- Hartnett, H.P., Stuart, H., Thurman, H., Loy, B., & Batiste, L.C. (2011). Employers’ perceptions of the benefits of workplace accommodations: Reasons to hire, retain, and promote people with disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 34, 17-23. doi: 10.3233/JVR-2010-0530
- McNaughton, D., & Richardson, L. (2013). Supporting positive employment outcomes for individuals with autism who use AAC. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 22, 164-172. doi: 10.1044/aac22.3.164
- Schall, C. (2010). Positive behavior support: Supporting adults with autism spectrum disorders in the workplace. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32, 109-115. doi: 10.3233/JVR-2010-0500
- Wehman, P. (2011). Employment for persons with disabilities: Where are we now and where do we need to go? Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 35, 145-151. doi: 10.3233/JVR-2011-0562