Exceptional Children: Navigating Learning Differences & Special Education

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be...

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Parents, teachers, and advocates of teens: This is for you. Parents, teachers, and advocates of younger kids: They will turn into teens before you know it. And if you’re just a big kid yourself, this is for you, too.

Rare is the parent who has never wondered what his or her child will grow up to be. Rare I am not, although I did postpone my wondering until my children were into puberty. I might have postponed the wondering about my son Bryce, who has autism, longer— he was progressing nicely and I had faith in the process—but for a middle school teacher who volunteered the opinion that she could “see our friend Bryce doing well in a cubicle doing clearly delineated tasks exactly as he is told.” There’s nothing wrong with cubicle jobs, and they are just right for some people (see below). But Bryce was already interested in filmmaking, an outside-the-cubicle profession if ever there was one. The cubicle prophecy was only one of many factors that led us to Thomas Edison High School, the only high school in our state devoted exclusively to students with learning differences.

One of the cornerstones of Thomas Edison High School is their Transitions program, which focuses on each student developing a plan for life after high school. For some students, Transitions will take them down the SAT/college application path. Others will pursue community college, and yet others will seek employment. For Bryce, one of the first steps in the Transitions process was his completion of the O*NET™ Interest Profiler.

The O*NET™ Interest Profiler is not a crystal ball, but rather an eerily accurate indicator of interest areas and how those interests can be gainfully applied to real-life jobs. The profile consists of 180 activities to which you respond with “like” or “dislike” (not “can” or “can’t”). Your score reflects your most cogent occupational interests, and where they fall into six areas. The six areas of interest are Realistic (practical, hands-on work, often outdoors); Investigative (thinking through problems, searching out facts); Artistic (jobs involving self-expression, forms, designs, or patterns, often without a clear set of rules); Social (helping others with learning and personal development); Enterprising (project-oriented, especially business); and Conventional (jobs that follow set procedures, rules, and standards, working with concrete data rather than concepts).

Now, many of us are sick of phony quizzes that attempt to sort a general population into half a dozen herds of general thinking. The Transition teachers at Edison knew some parents would be skeptical, so they encouraged us to complete the profile ourselves and see how accurately it gauged our own work interests.


My profile registered sky-high scores in Artistic and Investigative (reflecting my work as a writer and researcher) and near-nonexistent scores in the other categories. Bryce’s scores were similar to mine, although in lesser degree, underlining his interest in film and history. The strait-laced cubicle job area (Conventional) was his lowest score.

So I’m sold on the accuracy of the profile as a doorway to exploring career options. But the real beauty is in how it breaks your chosen interest category into five levels of employment possibilities, beginning with jobs requiring no preparation/further education and continuing up to jobs requiring extensive preparation (college degrees/advanced degrees). This information will be an important stepping stone in helping Bryce and his classmates identify employment opportunities that not only suit their interests, but also their abilities and financial resources.

And how about you? How well does your employment suit you? If you are unemployed or unhappily employed, this could be a good time to reshape your thinking about your own direction. I couldn’t help but notice how I wasn’t interested in many of the questions that indicated entrepreneurial or business-management interests. Some 20 years ago, at the height of my corporate career, I would have been all over those questions, and my Enterprising score would have been the dominant one. We all evolve over the course of our lives. Complete the O*NET™ Interest Profiler and let me know how it comes out for you. Visit www.onetcenter.org/IP.html to download the program and the scoring tool and www.onetcenter.org/dl_tools/IP_zips/IP-Instr-deskv.pdf to answer the questions. Home run? Off-base? At the very least, it’s a trip to the concession stand—food for thought.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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