"Look at him toss that football! He could play for the Patriots."
"She's an awesome singer. She should be on American Idol."
"Yeah, I do know a lot about movies, huh? I should work in Hollywood."
Now, I've talked before about the idea of not shooting people's goals down. I'm a firm believer in this. Research in the field of rehabilitation shows that people do best when they're working toward goals that are meaningful to them. But the problem with these things I'm hearing is that the "working toward" component isn't happening. Staff are missing a great opportunity here. Wouldn't it be fabulous to suggest that we find them a local weekend football league, or help them sign up for a music class at the adult education center, or see if their vocational program has any hours at a movie theater? Very few people make a living singing or acting or playing football, so why are we throwing around these careers as if they're readily achievable?
That being said, I definitely don't think we should shoot down someone's own goal. But if someone states that they'd love to play for the Patriots, why don't we provide them with the realistic feedback that professional players have a rare talent and practiced for years before playing professionally, so a first step toward getting involved in football would be to sign up for a local non-tryout league? Why would we communicating to someone who is not playing football seriously that they have a chance playing football for the Patriots? This is not accurate information. It's important to remember that people with developmental disabilities often do not understand hyperbole, even if they seem to have strong language skills.
I also think these lofty career goals originate from special education schools. It seems very developmentally typical that children (and their caretakers) in the elementary school years might talk about goals of being famous and talented. This usually disappears in the pre-teen years, when people start to recognize and pursue their own talents. I think though that for children in special education settings, staff continue to reinforce identities of "he wants to be a rock star!" and "she wants to be a TV host!" well into the teen years. This is well-intentioned, and is much better than identifying them as "invalid" or somesuch, but I believe it does them a disservice. Again, there is no need for staff to invalidate people's goals, but they can try to focus on realistic compliments ("he's really good at helping people" and "she's very neat and organized.") I think it's important to recognize that people with developmental disabilities often have few role models, and they often have a hard time understanding hyperbole. It's important that we help them recognize their true strengths and find outlets for these.