Starting a new job can make your child feel excited, independent and maybe a little nervous. She’s expected to learn new skills and routines, interact with new people and make decisions. One of the biggest decisions she’ll have to make is whether to tell her employer about her learning and attention issue.
In school, your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan spells out her disabilities as well as the accommodations the school provides. If she has an IEP, it may even include self-advocacy goals about speaking up and telling people what kind of help she needs to succeed. But jobs don’t come with IEPs. And few supervisors have experience with learning and attention issues.
Deciding whether to tell an employer about a disability is an important next step toward adulthood. Here are some pros and cons to help your child think about what she wants to do.
Potential Upsides of Telling the Employer
Here are some of the pros of disclosing her disability to her employer:
Accommodations in the workplace: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act require employers to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace. These and other laws also protect against job discrimination. But your child has to tell the employer about her disability and provide documentation in order to benefit from these laws. Usually, the human resources officer is a good place to start this conversation.
Financial incentives for the employer: Employers are eligible for tax breaks and sometimes subsidies if they hire people with disabilities. Research also shows that people with disabilities perform well and are less likely to job hop. These are some of the reasons your child may want to consider disclosing her disability to the hiring manager as well as the human resources manager.
Job coaching: If your child discloses her disability, her employer can judge her job performance fairly and provide more support if needed. For example, let’s says she’s struggling and is in danger of being let go. The employer may be open to her bringing in a job coach. A coach can provide on-site support and other resources that can help her succeed in the workplace.
Potential Downsides of Telling the Employer
Here are some common concerns your child may have and ways you can help address them:
Myths about learning and attention issues: Your child may worry that the employer believes some common myths about learning and attention issues. For example, she may worry that her boss will confuse her issues with intellectual disabilities. (These used to be called “mental retardation.”) If your child decides to disclose her disability, it’s a good idea for her to mention past successes and strategies that have worked for her in school and other places. She may also want to bring up some common misunderstandings or consider giving her employer a handout on myths and facts about learning and attention issues.
Confidentiality issues: Your child may worry that if she tells her employer, word will get out and all of her coworkers will know about her disability. Human resources officers know that information about a worker’s disabilities must remain private and that employers can get in trouble for breaking that rule. Most likely your child’s coworkers won’t hear about her disability unless she tells them herself.
Concerns about being given less responsibility: Your child may worry she won’t be trusted to take on important projects if she tells her boss about her disability. She may also be concerned that disclosing her disability could lead to her being passed over for a promotion or a raise. Help your child understand her rights at work and how anti-discrimination laws are designed to prevent her employer from doing these kinds of things.
You can help your child decide what’s best by reminding her that her good work ethic is what matters most. If she decides she wants to look for ways to adapt without telling her employer, you can help her brainstorm about ways to create her own informal accommodations.
For example, your child might be expected to take notes at a monthly staff meeting but can’t keep up. She could ask if she can record the meetings to be sure she doesn’t miss anything. Playing back the tape later will help her prepare a complete report. But keep in mind that it may be best to disclose her disability if the accommodations she needs might require permission from the boss.
“You can help your child decide what’s best by reminding her that her good work ethic is what matters most.”
If she decides to tell her employer about her disability, it’s a good idea to practice how she’ll present this information. Her goal is to be brief, clear and positive. Point out the ways she works around her disability.
For example, your child might say: “My learning disability makes it a challenge to understand spoken instructions with a lot of steps. But my solution is to ask for written instructions or to write them down myself. My supervisor at my previous job sent me email messages, and that worked great. In fact, he gave me an excellent evaluation on my last review.”
As you’re helping your child think about whether or how to disclose her disability, you can give her other advice on how to make her first job a good experience. If she’s finishing high school or college, you can also take steps to ease her transition into the working world.