By Adria Nassim
A lot of people are interested to hear about how I got my job as a columnist with The Herald-Times here in Bloomington. Although writing has now become a career for me, it did not start out that way. It started out as just something I enjoyed doing, beginning when I was very young, probably five or six years old. I had a big imagination as a kid, so making up stories was fun for me. It gave me something to do. I wasn’t athletic and couldn’t play sports very well or run fast, but I always loved to read and listen to stories, and I started to create my own.
My parents, along with several teachers, noticed how dedicated I was to my writing and how much fun I had with it. I think they also recognized early that there was a certain skill I had, because they encouraged me to write. Every time I wrote something new, they were always very interested. Sometimes they would ask me to read aloud to family or any friends who came to dinner or to spend the weekend. As I got older, this happened more often, and I was so proud of all the projects I was doing.
I have worked as a columnist with The Herald-Times now for the last four years. I also write this blog for the Indiana Institute on Disability and Center on Community Living and Careers at Indiana University. My blog posts promote independent living and community involvement in teens and young adults with disabilities. Now that writing has become a big part of my career, I am happy that I get to do something all week that I love doing, and I’m proud of all the positive awareness it has helped create in the greater community toward children and young adults with disabilities.
How can parents or professionals help foster a sense of passion in teens and young adults with disabilities?
I think one of the most critical predictors for success comes from consistent time spent around young people in the greater community who do not necessarily have a history of disabilities. This allows young people with disabilities to explore a wider range of interests and activities shared by typical peers. It may also increase their social and emotional development by having young people without disabilities serve as models for the way that typical peers behave, as opposed to spending the bulk of their time around peers with disabilities, and all too often, with only peers with disabilities.
This may be possible through exploring avenues such as a peer mentoring program, a social skills program, or simply getting the young person involved in an array of community activities with peers without disabilities. Starting when I was about eight and through high school, I participated on a swim team year-round and swam competitively against kids without disabilities.
I believe it’s okay for kids and young people to participate in Best Buddies and Special Olympics, but it’s also important to involve them in other activities with so-called neurotypical peers, such as scouting, robotics club, choirs, theatre, band or orchestra, book clubs, board game clubs, or volunteering.
Keep in mind that certain activities may need to be modified or accommodations may need to be made to ensure full and active participation of the teen or young adult with disabilities. However, please know there is nothing wrong with this. It might be helpful to meet with the activity leader prior to starting, so the young person gets a chance to meet them and explain his or her needs and challenges.
Also, allowing a young person to explore a variety of interests and not forcing, but encouraging engagement in a particular interest can be helpful. It helps if the young person’s living arrangement makes accessing and participating in their specific interest doable, because not all living situations may provide for this.
A little encouragement is a good start.
If family, friends, or teachers recognize and tell the young person that they have a specific skill or talent, particularly on repeated occasions, the young person may be more likely to invest more time into that certain interest for longer periods. What a person does with their future is ultimately up to them, but a little encouragement and hanging projects, such as photos, artwork, or stories on the fridge at a young age, is a good start.
If a child says they’re determined to be a paleontologist, but changes their mind when they become a teenager, that’s to be expected. It’s part of adolescence to develop new interests and skills.
Whether an interest will eventually become a career is very hard to say because there is no way to predict the future, especially since an interest developing into a life career is very dependent on how much time the young person dedicates to a particular interest. However, it has been known to happen. I am a testament to a childhood interest turning into a career.