Simple ways to coax your special needs child into a vocation or kitchen table income

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Let’s be clear from the outset that there are no easy actions to helping your special needs child, perhaps suffering from a mental condition, into a vocation or livelihood activities.

Success is elusive because it depends on many things. It depends on the functional level of your child – whether they are low, medium or high functioning. Usually, it is recommended, that a person suffering from a mental condition should at least have reached a medium level of functioning before they can begin thinking about vocational activities.

Another issue is the ability to concentrate or focus which is a challenge for most people with a mental illness. The other big one is motivation and some people, for example, with schizophrenia find it difficult to constantly motivate themselves to do things and keep motivating themselves.

Just to show how difficult it is consider this: a young woman from New York had nine different vocational jobs before she came up with the idea to sell T-shirts with Rorschach illustrations on them, selling them on the streets of New York. We’ll get to this in a moment but just consider how difficult it is for someone with a mental condition to engage with buyers on the street.

Another example is of a young man who suffers from schizophrenia. Over the past five years he has tried a series of vocational activities but as quickly lost interest. First of all he wanted to be a web designer and hoster. Then he abandoned that and tried to become a computer repairer. That went on for about six months and again was abandoned. He then decided he would be a day trader. That never got off the ground. Next up was to become a photographer and that was also abandoned. Now, he is doing nothing while he waits to try out these next vocational activity.

Some vocational activities such as sewing, dressmaking, and knitting, performing basic tasks on computers, graphic design, craft construction, teaching a skill such as art can be suited to the person with a mental condition. These vocational activities can be done from home in a safe environment. But with all of these vocational activities it depends on the interest level of the person suffering from a mental condition. You can’t force anyone into an activity they have no interest in.

Another consideration is that a special needs child would most likely need to try out several vocational activities before they settle on one that appeals to them. It’s difficult going into something with the possibility that you will sooner or later give it up. Living with the possibility of failure is challenging for the person who has a mental illness. But what other way is there? You have to keep on trying and then try again some.

Some parents and caregivers even go out of their way to set up a small business for their child in the hope that it will keep them engaged and occupied. I know of one example where a father set up a small shop selling surplus fresh goods for his daughter with a mental condition. It kept her active for a while but he also in the end gave up.

In today’s world of work with an emphasis of owning your own business, much false information is spewed out about running your own small business being the panacea for everything. But not everyone is suited to entrepreneurial activity. It takes special qualities, persistence and risk-taking to run a business of your own let alone all the necessary marketing, selling and administration and operations. Imagine then how difficult it is for the person with a mental condition to run a small business. It can be done, of course. But you need to carefully consider what all will be involved and whether your child will be able to handle it before embarking on setting up an entrepreneurial business for them.

Despite all the challenges, it is still worthwhile to pursue income-generating opportunities and participate in livelihood activities. Many people suffering from mental conditions can eventually find work that is suitable to them whether it be at home, or working part time or even working flexible hours.

According to the World Health Organisation (see link below), the search for livelihood activities may start with initiatives in your community that focus on income generation. You may also want to make contact with local businesses which are positive about employing people with mental health conditions. It is important that such businesses understand the necessary adjustments for work including quiet working spaces if concentration and noise sensitivity is an issue, flexible working hours and gradual extension of working hours.

Ultimately, as noted in the report, participation in livelihood activities is an important part of the recovery process. Work, in whatever form, promotes independence, autonomy, improvement in self-esteem, establishment of social networks, achievement of valued social status and control over one’s life.

The journey towards livelihood activities, says the report, starts with discussion about interests, purpose and passion, identifying opportunities in your local community and trying out various livelihood activities until your special needs child with a mental health condition finds a livelihood activity that suits their temperament, aptitude, special abilities and interest.





Global burden of mental disorders and the need for a comprehensive,  coordinated response from health and social sectors at the country level

Schizophrenia and work: What kind of work can I do?


‘A stepping stone to moving on’: home supports women with severe mental health issues

‘Without my family and friends, I could be homeless’: Schizophrenic woman, 27, launches clothing line to help get mentally ill people stay off New York City streets

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COMMENT: Celebrate the women doing online retail business their way

Schizophrenia and work: What kind of work can I do?

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