ERIC Identifier: ED400470
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Hutchinson, Nancy L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Canadian Guidance and
Counselling Foundation Ottawa (Ontario).
Career Counseling of Youth with Learning Disabilities. ERIC
Career counseling in secondary schools is important for all students; but it
is especially critical for students with learning disabilities. This group
comprises about half of identified exceptional students. Although they have
normal intelligence, their learning problems "in the acquisition and use of
listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities"
(Torgeson, 1991, p.21) can prevent them from acquiring knowledge when they are
taught in large groups or counseled with unstructured approaches.
Youth with learning disabilities have a higher dropout rate than their
non-handicapped peers. These youth report a greater need for transition services
that focus on career counseling and in obtaining and maintaining employment.
Instructional career counseling using cognitive approaches has been recommended
for youth with learning disabilities while they are still enrolled in secondary
school (Biller, 1987). Cognitive approaches have been used to enhance learning
in a number of curriculum areas, to increase self-control in students with
learning disabilities (Englert, Tarrant, & Mariage, 1992).
Characteristics of youth with learning
disabilities which may contribute to their difficulties in career development
include the following:
of career maturity and awareness of own abilities (Biller & Horn, 1991).
developed planning and monitoring skills (Biller & Horn, 1991).
of problem solving skill (Hoffman et al., 1987).
social skills and social awareness (Biller, 1987).
academic achievement, particularly in literacy (Hoffman et al., 1987).
Secondary schools have emphasized academic remediation for these students,
particularly in literacy. However, educational interventions are shifting to a
more preventive approach by focusing more on the demands of post-school
In recent research on adults with learning disabilities who were not
successfully employed, lack of self-understanding was cited as a pervasive
characteristic (e.g., Hoffman et al., 1987). Although they knew they were having
problems, these adults did not understand how their specific deficits
contributed to their difficulties. Consequently, they did not apply for jobs
that capitalized on their strengths, or anticipated problems and developed
compensatory strategies when they were having trouble meeting the demands at
work. Adults with learning disabilities described themselves as experiencing
difficulty attaining employment--particularly in completing application forms
and creating a positive impression in interviews. In reports to Hoffman et
al.(1987)adults attributed their difficulties in keeping a job to a lack of
social acceptance and a loss of temper. Employers have stated that persons with
learning disabilities possess poor attitude, are unreliable, and they lack
On the other hand, successful employment of adults with learning disabilities
has been attributed to their choosing careers in their areas of strength and due
to a quest for control of their lives. This quest for control included such
factors as goal-setting, persistence, and adaptability (Gerber, Ginsberg, &
Reiff, 1992). Adults with learning disabilities who are successful in employment
report either receiving or seeking special services to overcome their
limitations. (Gerber et al., 1992).
It is particularly important for individuals with learning disabilities to
receive career counseling and to participate in career-development programs
during secondary school. These programs can help them select careers that will
utilize strengths and de-emphasize weaknesses and help them to attain employment
by teaching them skills in employment writing and interviewing. They may also
handle problems that arise on the job, including problems with interpersonal
skills and anger control.
Career counseling group interventions using cognitive instruction, have been
recommended for youth. Such group interventions are especially recommended for
youth with learning disabilities (e.g., Biller, 1987). In cognitive instruction,
counselors and teachers provide clear explanations and models of behaviors and
thinking that students may not be able to develop spontaneously. Students
practice with peers in pairs and small groups, adapting the problem-solving
approaches and explanations of the teacher to develop their own understanding
(Englert et al., 1992).
In cognitively-based instruction, problem solving and other complex thinking
skills have a central place. Rather than absorbing facts, students make sense of
what they are taught and construct their own knowledge (Hutchinson & Freeman
1994). Students learn when they are cognitively engaged as they work with ideas
and actively use information as it is acquired. In the classroom, cognitive
approaches involve students interacting with each other. Thinking about their
answers and giving explanations for their thinking helps students realize there
are a number of ways of arriving at understanding. Moreover, negotiating
meaning, listening to colleagues, and arriving at consensus are skills required
in the modern workplace.
A four-year research program investigated whether, by using structured
cognitive instruction as described above, teachers and counselors could enhance
the career readiness of youth with learning disabilities. The program used was
"Pathways" (Hutchinson & Freeman, 1994), a cognitive instructional program
designed to address five career-related areas: awareness of self and careers,
employment writing, interview skills, problem solving on the job, and anger
management. Studies demonstrated significant increases in self-awareness and
career awareness, improved skills in employment writing and interviewing, and
advanced strategies in problem solving and anger management (e.g., Hutchinson,
Freeman, & Fisher, 1993).
Cognitive interventions that are effective with adolescents with learning
disabilities usually include: student involvement in setting goals; clear
demonstrations of task-specific strategies and self-talk that will help
students; clear explanations of ways in which the strategy is relevant;
opportunities for students to practice both behaviors and thinking skills in
authentic situations; opportunities for student interaction, especially giving
and listening to explanations; feedback, using prompting or modeling following
errors rather than telling the answer; use of student performance to change
instruction in a timely way and teaching students to generalize and apply
knowledge across settings, and conditions. (Based on Englert et al., 1992).
"Pathways" includes many activities in which students take on unfamiliar
roles to enhance their understanding and motivation. For example, in one
activity students assume the roles of employers and examine completed
application forms to decide which applicants will receive interviews. Based on
this experience, they develop guidelines for themselves for completing
applications. They then approach the task with increased awareness of the need
for tidy, complete, and informative responses if they want employers to select
them for interviews based on their applications. In "Pathways," activities
frequently have three phases. First, the teacher models a strategy by thinking
out loud; this means teachers must be willing to make their thinking and problem
solving visible to students while modeling with a sample problem or task.
Second, the students engage in guided practice or undertake an authentic task
with a partner or in a small group while receiving feedback. This works well
when students alternate roles, taking turns thinking aloud and responding to a
peer thinking aloud. Last, the students practice or carry out the activity
independently until they are competent and confident using the strategy.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Making developmental career
counseling a focus in secondary schools contributes to the success of youth with
learning disabilities in post-school employment. These students show patterns of
thinking and behavior that are alterable with cognitive intervention by
counselors and teachers. Although the development of career counseling programs
can be carried out by local school jurisdictions, a program such as "Pathways," provides a successful model that is based on four years of development and
evaluation research. Career counselors, classroom teachers, and special
educators can work together to tailor a program to meet the needs of youth with
learning disabilities in their community.
Biller, E. F. (1987). "Career Decision Making
for Adolescents and Young Adults with Learning Disabilities: Theory, Research
and Practice." Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Biller, E. F., & Horn, E. E. (1991). "A Career Guidance Model for
Adolescents with Learning Disabilities. School Counselor, 38, 279-286.
Englert, C. S., Tarrant, K. L., & Mariage, T. V. (1992). "Defining and
Redefining Instructional Practice in Special Education: Perspectives on Good
Teaching." Teacher Education and Special Education, 15(2), 62-86.
Gerber, P. J., Ginsberg, R., & Reiff, H. B. (1992). "Identifying
Alterable Patterns in Employment Success for Highly Successful Adults with
Learning Disabilities." Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 475-487.
Hoffman, F. J., Sheldon, K. L., Minskoff, E. H., Sautter, S. W., Steidle, E.
F., Baker, D. P., Bailey, M. B., & Echols, L. D. (1987). "Needs of Learning
Disabled Adults." Journal of Learning Disabilities, 20, 43-52.
Hutchinson, N. L., & Freeman, J. G. (1994). "Pathways" (5 volumes).
Toronto, ON: Nelson Canada.
Hutchinson, N. L., Freeman, J. G., & Fisher, C. (1993). "A Two-Year
Cohort Study: Career Development for Youth with Learning Disabilities." Paper
presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, Atlanta, GA.
Torgeson, J. (1991). "Learning Disabilities: Historical and Conceptual
Issues." In B. Y. L. Wong (Ed.), Learning about leaning disabilities (pp. 3-37).