By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
Kim MacPherson worked as a volunteer with the developmentally delayed while she was in high school. So when a full-time job in customer service began to pall, going to college to study for a developmental services worker diploma was an obvious choice.
Now just a week away from graduation from Humber College, MacPherson fondly recalls her time as a volunteer in Caledon, Ont., and how the experience shaped her choice of career.
| Donald Easson Instructor
"I felt so fulfilled. I felt so rewarded by doing something for someone else," says MacPherson, who already has a job lined up in a community living home.
Like many others in health care, developmental services grads are usually overlooked and always taken for granted. But without them, boys and girls and men and women who are autistic or who have Down Syndrome or some other intellectual handicap -- sometimes combined with a physical disability -- would still be segregated and inappropriately labelled.
Jo Anne Nugent, the co-ordinator of the Humber program, says her graduates most commonly find jobs with school boards assisting pupils who have been integrated into regular classes. There are other opportunities in residential homes, in pre-school settings and among day programs for seniors, Nugent says.
"The job prospects are good," says Donald Easson, an instructor in the developmental services program at Centennial College. "There are many more jobs than there are college graduates."
Jo Anne Nugent, co-ordinator of developmental services at Humber College says her graduates most commonly find jobs with school boards assisting developmentally challenged pupils who have been integrated into regular classrooms.
Humber and Centennial are the only colleges in the GTA to teach developmental services. Humber offers a two-year program for high school graduates and certain mature students, an accelerated one-year program for university or college graduates and part-time studies that typically take five years to complete.
Centennial offers a two-year full- time program only, but Easson says the college will do all it can to allow those with the right qualifications to graduate faster than that.
At both schools tuition is about $2,500 a year. Academic requirements vary, but Humber and Centennial both want evidence of volunteering and letters of reference. Nugent and Easson say their respective programs are heavily skewed towards women, both of them pegging the ratio at about nine females to one male.
The age range is from late teens for high school graduates to thirties and forties or even older for mature students, career changers and some students from abroad. Nugent says her oldest student was 61.
As well as classroom study -- health and wellness, integration, communications and so on -- students can expect plenty of field placement. Easson says Centennial students spend about half their final year working for various agencies and often the agencies that his students and Humber's work for will hire them full time upon graduation. Pay for a developmental services worker starts at $29,000 to $30,000 or so.
Humber accepts 40 students in total for its one and two-year programs, says Nugent, and they are commonly over-subscribed although not by much. Centennial takes 45 applicants and the program is usually full or almost full, says Easson.
Job prospects for developmental services graduates in the GTA are excellent.
Starting pay can be as little as $29,000 a year.
School boards usually do the most hiring.
Graduates may work with autistic children, Down Syndrome children or adults and others with an intellectual disability, sometimes combined with a physical handicap.
Humber College and Centennial College are the only schools in the GTA to offer developmental services programs.
Students are expected to have a considerable store of empathy for the people they will eventually work with.
If anyone is considering developmental services a real interest in the field is crucial, says Nugent, because the progress their charges make is often small.
MacPherson agrees. She says, "Students must absolutely have empathy for the people they work with. They must be able to support a person's needs."
After all, she points out, everyone has needs, so why should the developmentally disabled be any different.
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