The big switch – school to work for LD people

In terms of where and with whom you spend most of your waking hours, there are three big switches in most people’s lives: In your first years, you spend time at home, with your parents or caregivers.  Then you spend a long time in school, with teachers and classmates.  Then you have work, with colleagues and bosses and so on.  Then you retire.

This is about the second of these big switches: School to work

In America, at least, the system owes you an education.  It may not deliver what it owes – all too often it does a miserable job of delivering.  But, at least in theory, you have the right to an education.  A free and appropriate education.  You may need a lot of persistence and advocates to get it, but you are owed it.

All this changes when you go to work.

Your boss does not owe you a job.

It is true that there are laws against workplace discrimination, but that is quite different.  Companies exist to make money, not to employ people.  You are, therefore, employed to help a company make money.  Once you really realize this, your perspective should change.

Rather than demanding accommodations (as you could in school) you should make accommodations.  And you should sell those accommodations to your employers by showing them how the accommodations help them, not how they help you.  For example, I know some people use special keyboards to type on.  If you go to your boss and demand that he (or she) buy one for you then she (or he) may well tell you to forget it.  Or fill out some form in triplicate.  Or they may just mark you in their heads as being a pain in the *** and start looking for reasons to fire you.  And once someoe starts thinking about you in a negative way, that expands to other areas too.  This happens automatically, and it happens to just about everyone.  That is, once you are seen as a problem case, then everything you do – good or bad – is viewed from that perspective.  On the other hand, if you bring a keyboard in and just start using it, you risk violating some rule or other.  Not as bad as the first alternative, but still not good.  What if you go to your boos when he (or she) has a minute and say “You know, my job requires a lot of typing; I’d like to type as quickly and accurately as possible, so that I can get more work done and help you as much as I can.  That’s easier for me if I use this special keyboard.  I brought one in.  Could I use it?”.  No more pain in the ***.  and now, your boss will be motivated to help you get around any rules.

That’s just one example.  It works with any accommodation you might need.

Or suppose you have trouble dressing appropriately.  You may not know how to dress, but by this point in your life, you probably know it’s a problem.  Well, what could you do?  Most people seem to get this by osmosis.  They are actually observing what others are doing, but that’s hard.  So, you could make a conscious note of what everyone at your job is wearing, and write it down.  But even that can be hard, because we style-unconscious people may not even know what to write down.  So, if you have one colleague whom you get along with, ask him (or her) to help.  Most people actually like helping others.

There are, of course, lots of other potential problems at work.   But many can be ameliorated, if not solved, by knowing that there has been a big switch.


  1. usethebrainsgodgiveyou says

    Good advice. Read column aloud to my son. It’s just common sense, and he agreed with you!

  2. Peter, thank you so much for emphasizing the importance of this shift in perspective. I’ve been talking about this stuff for years and have noticed that much of it seems to be met with resistance. For those who regard the workplace as merely another extension of their school experience, it’s probably just too alien a mindset.

    We really need to empower people more by getting away from that “accommodations are owed to me” mentality. Employers want to see a focus on initiative. In my experience, that is the best way I know to motivate them into helping the employee achieve success on the job.

  3. This is one of the big reasons we emphasize work skills and the fact that money and privileges are earned. Homeschooling (and I know it’s not for everyone for many reasons) allows us to combine the work skills and ethic with the educational experience.

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