By Karen Fried, Psy.D.
“Mom, I got a great job that pays $150 to $200 per day!”
I checked back in with my friend about her son Jeffrey to see how he was doing in college.
She reported he was doing very well but taking a reduced load in college due to his executive functioning difficulties. As Jeffrey struggles with organization, and time management, juggling too many classes at a time is difficult for him. Often he might lose track of his materials, including key items, such as his wallet and keys and he requires additional time to sequence tasks. As this put him on a “6-year plan” to receive his degree, she and her husband told Jeffrey he needed to get a job.
They brainstormed with Jeffrey options for part time positions that would be suitable to earn extra money while still allowing time to study. He responded with his typical enthusiasm and wanted to take some ownership of the process. Applying the principles of time-management he has learned, Jeffrey looked for a job allowing him to earn the maximum amount of money with the smallest amount of time required to fit into his busy schedule.
My friend wondered, what might Jeffrey find that fits this criteria? She found out in a call from him soon after their discussion. “Mom, I got a great job that pays $150 to $200 per day!” “That sounds great,” she said, “what is it?” His response? “Packing parachutes.”
My friend saw the humor in this job option for her son, as well as the extreme mismatch of skills needed for a job that has such a small margin for error – preparing parachutes for someone who’s relying on a parachute to open while jumping out of a plane. According to Russell Barkley, Ph.D.’s research, people’s attentional deficits, and the accompanying executive deficits lag behind their peers. Parents therefore have children who are developmentally functioning at a younger age than their actual age. This is complicated, frustrating, and confusing to have a son in his early 20’s who is functioning more like a high school age student. However, understanding this developmental lag can help parents have a more realistic view of their adult child.
This often means these young adults have a later date of launching from their homes and find education and/or work paths that are successful for them. Often parents still need a team of supportive coaches, educators, therapists, psychiatrists and others while their adult children are “catching up.” Our experience in helping others cope and facilitate this discrepancy between age and skill set is to set the following goals:
Demystify the student’s learning style.
- The field of special education has knowledgeable experts and clear measures to evaluate students. However, the evaluation process is truly complete when the students are their own experts regarding their strengths, weaknesses and needs.
In stages appropriate to them, allow them to manage the help they’re receiving.
- Often students who have a history of special needs develop learned helplessness, and a passive learning style due to the amount of help they’ve received. Young adulthood can be the time to gradually transfer the control to them to set goals and use those assisting them as consultants.
Set manageable and measurable goals.
- Instead of what might be an overwhelming goal such as a college degree, it might be, “my goal is I will go to 90% of my classes.” I will achieve this goal by following the time management chart I fill out with my coach.
Capitalize upon their strengths.
- Many successful adults have taken stock of their strengths and weaknesses and find occupations that are the best match for their talents and narrow their tasks to what they do best.