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Testimonial: "I hope Sean gets to have a lifetime of enriching experiences through his career – whatever that may look like"

Preparing for life post-school

26 April 2022

How do you define a career? I heard a quote recently that became my own personal game changer. It goes “a career no longer refers to a specific job or occupation. [It] includes a lifetime of experiences including life roles, education, training, paid work and unpaid work”.

This quote became really important to me – especially as my son approached the end of school during a pandemic.

My name’s Anne, and my son Sean finished secondary school last year. Sean’s pretty amazing. He’s autistic and has some co-morbid disabilities. He’s a very gentle and caring soul.

He’s also very creative and can get laser-focused on projects to a point where he can work for hours without stopping. Sean did VCAL around graphic design, screen and media and has even won a few awards for his animations!

But COVID really put a spanner in the works. When we moved to learning from home Sean didn’t want to use his computer because he didn’t trust the data tracking and was terrified someone was watching him. That made it really hard for him to engage with his schoolwork and affected his mental health.

Things spiralled from there and Sean became more and more anxious. These fears really triggered other mental health struggles and it wasn’t long before he became fearful and suspicious of anything to do with school and schoolwork. So when he transitioned back to classroom learning late last year he couldn’t cope, to the point where he only attended a couple of hours on site during Term 4.

Sean still graduated, but his mental health was so poor by that stage that we needed to take a break from any further education, training or work for the next 12 months while we got him the support he needed.

What has worked is that when Sean entered Year 10 we started thinking about his post-school life. Through a connection we managed to get him some work experience at a local hardware store. We thought it was important for him to explore this as a possible career option while he was still at school and figuring things out, and to build his confidence. 

We were initially worried it would be hard for him to fit in, but because of his interests he’s become an integral part of the team and feels very included! They love him because he’s so logical and loves putting stock back on shelves, finding a correct place for everything and reading the labels.

I say he’s got the “IKEA” gene – he can just look at something and tell you what’s going to fit where! We wanted to give him the opportunity to try his hand at retail work, and work experience gave him that.

We’re also looking at Sean doing more education and training in future, when he feels ready.

Because he did Cert III at school it would be great for him to re-engage with this, maybe doing a Cert IV in graphic design. We started looking at suitable places and we found a university nearby that has a really good student support program.

We also discovered that students with disability can get an academic support worker to help them with things like note taking or creating different ways to do assessments, such as oral presentations instead of essays.

His mental health case manager is also going to help with this, and someone from their team looking at suitable courses and what supports would be available. Seeing him study his passion would be a great outcome.

While he likes to work solo on computers and it’s important for him to work on his passions long-term, it’s also important for him to be out and about and connecting with other people.

The NDIS School Leavers Employment Services (SLES) funding is also available, and we can access that for up to two years post-school. This really takes some of the pressure off right now, and I’ve found so many great traineeships through this service. One of them is in warehousing where people 18+ can get their forklift license. I think that’s something Sean would really enjoy.

We’ve also been looking at gardening as a career option. Since it means he can use his hands, he’s not against it. So we’ve got quite a few ideas floating around.

Thinking about Sean’s future and all the possibilities has been tough for us. I’d want as many parents as possible to feel prepared for the journey ahead. If I could give advice to other parents who have a teenager, there’s two things I would say.

Firstly, get information, resources and advice early on in the teenage years. I started looking at all of the post-school options when Sean was in Year 10 or 11, and I found it really confronting because I was so close to that next phase of his life. I really wish we’d started thinking about this when he was in the early stages of secondary school. But it’s never too late to start planning.

Secondly, I’d recommend just talking to other families who have children with disability in the same age range. Hearing about the types of obstacles they’ve had lets you know you’re not alone. I know this may seem a bit obvious, but I think you learn a lot that way.

Things may not be where we wanted or planned them to be with Sean’s career thanks to COVID, but we’re working towards a brighter future. In two years’ time, I hope he’s engaging in something at least two or three times a week. He may never work full time but for him to have a variety of experiences, including part time study, his part time job at the hardware store and maybe volunteering one day a week would be wonderful. I also hope he gets to a point where he’s independent – for him, but also for ourselves.

But above all, I hope Sean gets to have a lifetime of enriching experiences through his career – whatever that may look like.

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