Career Planning Checklist: Cerebral Palsy Career Builder for Elementary Students

By Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, Disability Employment Expert

I began my career planning checklist in sixth grade -- not formally on paper but in my head. I knew I couldn’t be a farmer like my dad or do physical labor because I had cerebral palsy (CP).

However, I knew I could write. And, I knew I had to go to college and get grades to get a job, someday marry and have a household of my own.

A life of independence was my goal, even at 10 years of age.

That could have been the heading for my career planning checklist if I had written it down: “How I Will Achieve a Life of Independence.”

I wanted to avoid being institutionalized as an adult, but, even at 10, I knew the next step I needed to take to become independent. I needed to make the transition from an away-from-home, small-city orthopedic school (where all the kids had special needs) to a small, “regular” high school back home in a rural area.

As that transition drew nearer, I was frightened. I would likely be the only kid in the small high school with a disability. Would I be accepted? Would I be bullied? Would I be able to keep up with the other kids in class? How would I navigate those long hallways with lockers on each side without falling down and prompting the other kids to laugh at me?

Even one of grade school teachers thought I should find a more sheltered environment for high school.

But, I did it. I went back home for high school, got good grades and became salutatorian for my class. I was the locker-room clean-up guy for the school’s football team, ran the watch during wrestling matches and edited the senior year annual. To my surprise, I was largely accepted.

And, the next step on my career planning checklist was college (but that’s another story).

Checkmark graphic for Career Planning Checklist

Ingredients of a career planning checklist

First, let me be clear about what career planning is not. Career planning is not answering the question, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" Instead, career planning:

  • Is a lifelong process.

  • Involves using a set of career planning skills that must be learned.

  • Helps organize one's thinking about one's self, education, work, and other life roles.

  • Is proactive even in the face of unplanned events.

According to, a career planning checklist needs to answer these questions:

  1. Who am I?

    The more youngsters know about themselves, the better choices they will make. Help them imagine their dreams and reflect on their beliefs. Encourage them to express their talents and explore their interests. Support them in learning more about themselves as they experience new things.

  2. Where am I going?

    As youngsters articulate their dreams, help them connect those dreams to reality and their future. This means learning more about the world of work and setting goals that will help them test out their dreams. As they learn more, their dreams may change. Change is an important aspect of the career development process.

  3. How do I get there?

    School is an important time for developing talents and skills into valuable assets. Help youngsters understand how they can reach their goals and why school is important. Learn together about the requirements for occupations and career paths they are interested in. Consider how these requirements are supported through required academic coursework, elective classes, extracurricular activities, career-related learning, and work experiences.

  4. What are my next steps?

    A career plan looks at all possible avenues for achieving one's goals. Help youngsters create a plan, with specific activities and actions, to work toward their goals. Encourage them to be thoughtful about all of their experiences and how those experiences reinforce or detract from their goals.

  5. Where am I now?

    Career planning is a process, a cycle. Unplanned events will affect choices and possibilities. Youngsters need to consider their progress regularly along the way and make adjustments as needed. This may lead them to learn more about themselves, have new aspirations, set new goals, and research new dreams.

With each change within your youngster’s development, help him or her return to these five questions and make sure goals and action plans are on target.

One of the simplest ways to organize a career planning checklist is to focus on these three elements:

  • Self-knowledge

  • Knowledge of the world of work and education

  • Decision making and goal setting


Help your youngster understand his or her unique qualities. That goes a long way in answering the first career planning checklist question, “Who am I?”

Interests, values, skills, personality type, and career beliefs are the personal characteristics most frequently discussed by career professionals.

These personal characteristics are often measured by using formal career assessment inventories. Your youngster might use one of these instruments as early as middle school. Formal instruments are very specific in what they can tell you and your youngster. If a formal instrument is used, make sure you understand what its purpose is and what the results mean. Formal instruments never tell your child what he or she should be!

These and other facets of self-understanding can be also gleaned through everyday experiences. Children actively display their talents, strengths, and passions in play, in social interactions, and in school. They demonstrate how confident they are in various situations, how much they believe in themselves and their capabilities. They indicate if they feel that they can control their present and their future.

Be aware of these markers of self-esteem and talk about them with your child at the earliest age. Ask the right questions (not “What do you want to be when you grow up?”) -- something like this:

  • “What are your dreams?”

  • “Why do you like to do that?”

  • “What do you feel you are good at?”

  • “What is important to you?

Helping your youngster along this discovery process can be a part of your everyday conversations with him or her. Casual conversations at the spur of the moment often reveal insights that can become part of a career planning checklist.

Knowledge of the world of work and education

You can help your youngster learn about what is “out there” in terms of occupations by following up on natural curiosity. Observing everyday life in your home and community offers many chances to think about how people and the work they do affect their lives.

As your youngster expresses an interest in an activity, person, or product, take the opportunity to explore:

  • What are those people doing and why?

  • Where did that product come from, how was it made, and who made it?

  • What does that type of person actually do in his or her job?

Tying your youngster’s understanding of the world of work to education is also critical. Kids need to connect what they are learning in school to their dreams. So, extend your conversations and observations this way:

  • Are those workers using math (or writing, speaking, science, history) to do their jobs?

  • How did that person prepare to do that work?

  • What kind of school or training would I need to do that?

  • What would I have to do to go to that school or training program?

In some situations, you may not know the answers to these questions. No one, not even a career development professional, knows everything about work and school. Take advantage of this opening to work together to research the answers and open up more possibilities.

Decision making and goal setting

Self-knowledge and knowledge about work and education are meaningless without the next step: making decisions based on that knowledge – decisions which present themselves later than at the elementary level.

In middle school, for example, your youngster may choose which career paths to explore as part of a curriculum. In high school, he or she are deciding which classes to take, what to do after they graduate, and where to look for work. As adults, your son or daughter will also make career decisions regularly (when, for example, to take additional skill training or request a promotion).

So, that’s the big picture when it comes to developing a career planning checklist with your youngster who has CP. Between the ages of four and 10, your son or daughter will likely form a lasting impression of what life is all about and how he or she can fit into it.

It’s a developmental stage when you can influence how that picture takes shape by introducing concepts which will later add up to a robust career planning checklist.

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Originally written and illustrated by Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, who, as a person with cerebral palsy, served for 10 years as a vice president in a Fortune 500 company during his 29-year career in corporate communication. He’s an Accredited Business Communicator, certified as a Global Career Development Facilitator and author of 14 Amazon books about disability awareness and disability employment issues.