Discovering Careers For Teenagers With Learning Challenges

by | May 26, 2023 | Parent Support

Discovering careers for teenagers with learning challenges can be very difficult. Their school grades do not reflect the learning and understanding of subjects they may actually have. One of my core values when working with teenagers and their parents is to go the extra mile for those who have significant challenges. I fundamentally believe that everyone deserves to have the career that brings out their potential. More than belief, I know there is a way to further education even if the grades may, on first glimpse, say No!

One mother’s challenge

I recently had a conversation with a mother of a boy with strong dyslexia. She told me her son was not flourishing at school and spending more time out then in class. It is a phase of life that he will have to endure so that he can finish his education and sit his Leaving Cert.

As she was speaking, I asked myself “Why must he endure a place that is not nourishing or educating him?” He is constantly in an environment that showcases his weaknesses rather than his strengths. I asked her that question and she said she had the same conversation with the school. She felt that in years to come he would regret not ‘having a Leaving Cert’. She didn’t want him to blame her later in life for making that decision for him.

This doesn’t have to be the case!

The first missing link in this situation is the mother’s narrow view of the pathways available to her son of transitioning from second level education into further education and training (FET). That’s not her fault. It is how the education system and transition to third level education has been promoted for all these years.

Another way

Mother & son working at laptop

Yes, of course, it would be easier if her son had his Leaving Cert but it is not the only way to progress. One route is to leave school once he is 16 years of age and work. He most certainly will continue to learn – skills related to his job, self-management (getting to work on time, keeping himself well groomed, etc), team skills and a host of other skills.

Once he turns 23 years of age, he can return to education using his relevant work experience and maturity with the insights he has gained about himself to know what type of course would suit him best. As a mature student, he will not have to rely on Leaving Cert results to gain entry onto a course.

There are other routes through the Further Education and Training (FET) system that he could look into where Leaving Cert results are not a requirement. Once he can get a qualification of some kind, the Leaving Cert becomes irrelevant, if that is what he wants. You can discover suitable courses on the FETCH website

Another missing link

This leads me to the second missing link. What exactly does HE want? It’s unclear at this point. My hope is that by working first of all with his mum, I can lay out all the possible options that he has by staying in school and sitting his final exams OR leaving early and seeing what options are available to then. This will allow her to have a wider view of what is possible and step away from putting him on a rigid path.

By then working with her son, I can facilitate him to focus on what his strengths are and use those to forge out a pathway that he can embrace – for himself. Once he knows what his options are, he can make an informed decision about school. He is in control of his future. And his mum can rest easy that she hasn’t made the wrong decision.


In reality, too much emphasis is placed on teenagers to choose their career at an age where they do not have the tools to make a good decision. But what is a good time? It all depends on the individual in front of you. Some find it easier then others. For those who find it more difficult, postponing that decision for a few years, may allow the teenager to learn more about themselves. They will have the maturity to know the direction they want to take and have the confidence to make better decisions all round.

Let’s not push our teenagers too far, too fast, let’s slow it all down and get it right first time!

Image of Helen Dillon Careers Coach for Teenagers

Helen Dillon – Careers Coach for Teenagers

About me

I am a Careers Coach for Teenagers and Young Adults. You can learn more about me here.

I coach teenagers to choose their future careers – Learn more about my programme.

I run online courses for parents to help them support their teens through the Leaving Cert year – find out more here.



  1. Collette

    Excellent article Helen. I agree that the emphasis of the current secondary system on the points race is all wrong – it suits some children, but definitely doesn’t suit others.
    And there are other options that may suit some better. Making parents aware of these is helpful.

    • Helen Dillon

      Thanks for your comment, Collette. I believe that a lot could be done within the education system to relieve the pressure on what has to be learned to a more inclusive model that keeps everyone learning at their own pace.


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