It is graduation time here in the U.S. Kids (and parents) are thinking about the future. But when your teen has chronic health conditions, the future can be uncertain and the decisions more complicated. I know that the saying “Do what you love and you won’t have to work another day of your life” is very popular, but the truth is that career planning is much more than finding your passions.
Here are a few things to think about:
- Every teen needs to learn about their interests and their skills. Regardless of medical concerns or limitations, picking a career path that doesn’t match any strong interests is a plan almost certain to fail. It’s not just that doing what you are drawn to feels good. There is a medical reason to pick a career that they don’t hate; if the greatest part of the day or week will require them to do tasks they dislike or find boring, they are at risk for stress-related flares in their condition. Similar concerns exist when a career choice doesn’t match their skills. Loving what you do but not having the right skills or talents is very frustrating. It could be harder to get and keep a job without good skills. Help your teen identify what interests them about life and school, and where they truly shine. If your teen hasn’t had a chance to observe people working in the profession(s) they find interesting, make sure that they do so before they invest time and money in training.
- Look at potential careers with an eye to benefits, job demands and scheduling flexibility. Most adults with chronic health conditions want to be employed, and every one of them will need health insurance. In the U.S., that means finding a job that provides insurance or purchasing individual coverage after aging out of family policy coverage options at age 26. Generous sick days and personal days are perks every employee desires, but for people with a chronic illness, those benefits allow for medical treatments and rest during periods of symptom flares. The NYT has written about the fact that insurance isn’t total assurance that chronic illness won’t create major stress ,but insurance is essential. Think carefully about the working environments common to a particular career path. Some careers will have a high-stress pathway (i.e. trial attorney) but also less demanding types of work within the profession. Other careers require a high degree of physical stamina and skill. These may not be the jobs you would think of right away as physically demanding. For example, preschool teachers and hairdressers are on their feet most of the day, every day!
- Career planning and completing required training while living with a chronic and possibly progressive condition may require outside support. Teens that have been able to perform in high school without any compensations such as 504 plans may need more help in college. Higher education often expects more independence and more mobility (think large campuses and internships) from students. Most universities have an office for disabled students. Their staff will work with students with disabilities to create a plan, but it is the student’s responsibility to inform the office of specific needs and to develop strategies with the staff and faculty. If your teen doesn’t want to be “identified” as disabled, this is the time to talk about being proactive and positive. Finding assistance and receiving effective support could make all the difference.
- Explore local and online support groups. Adults with your teen’s medical issues may have useful strategies or tales of caution that will help you develop a plan or expose problems that you haven’t anticipated. Remember that personal stories are just that: personal. Experiences are quite variable and it is difficult or impossible to predict another person’s path.
For a book that can help teens with the big transitions and the small challenges, check out Teens With Chronic Illness Or Disability Need A Good Guide: Easy For You To Say. This book will be a great resource for life issues big and small. If you or your child isn’t a teen any longer, read “Life, Interrupted” by Laurie Edwards. She speaks about her challenges with a serious respiratory illness, but the issues regarding school, work, relationships and acceptance are all relevant.