The challenge of employment opportunities for adults with special needs

If you or your child have special needs and have reached the age of 21, you may be thinking about employment opportunities. Most formal education or programs for the special needs population have ended at that age, and they must consider the future. Especially for special needs adults who are independent or somewhat independent, they may want to find and hold down a regular job.

In this article, you will read about the common issues that special needs adults face when looking for employment opportunities, how to know whether or not you or your child is ready for employment, and different employment opportunities in the US for the special needs population. You can also download our guide for preparing your neurodiverse or special needs adult child here.

Why special needs adults want to be employed:

For parents of a special needs young adult, 21 is an uncertain age. Formal education has ended, and in most places, there are no structured entertainment programs geared toward these special young adults. At age 21, many higher-functioning special needs men and women crave the independence and responsibility of holding down a job, receiving a paycheck, and engaging in meaningful activities every day.

Since the special needs population does not live in a vacuum, they observe their family and friends advance into different stages of life, and they do not want to be left behind. Many feel resentful that their schooling was different, that they are trusted less and given less responsibility than their (sometimes younger!) siblings, and are treated as young children when their peers are not. They feel capable of being employed and resent any resistance.

The challenges special needs adults face:

The obvious challenge is that adults with special needs do not have the same physical and cognitive abilities as typical adults. They haven’t had the same level of education as other young adults their age, and their psychological, emotional, and cognitive capacity is lower in comparison. This means that many job opportunities are unattainable for the special needs population, including jobs that require computer use.

Another difficulty they face is discrimination. The world has come far in understanding that special needs young adults have much to contribute. Today, many employers promote inclusion and are cognizant of how much they can contribute. Nonetheless, there is often still an uphill struggle to find availabilities in many local workplaces because many employers hire only fully capable young adults.

There is also the struggle of finding a workplace that can accommodate the modifications and adjustments needed to make special needs employees feel comfortable. Many employers are unaware of what they need to do or are willing to hire an adult with special needs but unwilling to make any major accommodations, like providing special training or a flexible working schedule.

Can my child enter the workforce?

This is a question that many parents of special needs adults wonder. Although many special needs young adults have the emotional capacity of a young child, many are high-functioning and may be ready to enter the workforce. 

This is how you can know whether or not your child can hold down a regular job:


  1. If they asked- if your son or daughter has reached the age of 21 and has asked about employment opportunities, chances are that they are ready and able to enter the workforce.
  2. If they have shown responsibility- if you can trust your child to go to the store, visit someone’s house, or take a bus on their own, it’s likely that they can be trusted to work, too.
  3. If they are educated- if your child can read and write, do basic mathematics, and communicate effectively, they probably have enough cognitive ability to work.
  4. If they have resilience and grit- if your child can perform a task until the end, for example, stuffing envelopes, tidying a room, or transporting boxes, they can hold down a job.

Every parent who has raised a special needs child will have the answers to the questions above. If unsure, you can discuss the matter with your child’s OT, PT, or other therapists and counselors who know your child.

Employment options for special needs adults:

There are various employment options for special needs adults. If you’re looking for a suitable employment opportunity for your special needs adult, here are some options you may consider:


  1. Family and friends- ask family and friends who own businesses if they would be willing to hire your child. You may be surprised! Even for a business that seemingly would have no employment options for a special needs adult, with some creativity, a position can be carved out just for your child.
  2. Community businesses- Many local businesses in your community may be happy to hire an extra pair of hands, like a delivery man for a local grocery store or someone to unpack boxes at a warehouse.
  3. Large retail companies- Big chain stores like Walgreens, UPS, and P&G have special inclusion programs that employ special needs adults while making them feel comfortable and important.
  4. Some communities have employment centers, especially for young adults with special needs. Find out if there is a program in your community for your child.

Ohel Sarah is an organization based in Israel that supports special needs children and adults from six until the end of their lives. They have schools, group homes, and employment programs for higher- and lower-functioning young adults. Ohel Sarah provides work training and helps higher-functioning adults integrate into the workforce. Additionally, adults who are lower functioning are employed in their own centers, engage in meaningful activities, have an active social life, and receive other therapies and programs simultaneously.

Get the job interview tips for special needs adults

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