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Transition To Employment

The Autism Nuts and Bolts: Tips for Parents

For many of us, our job reflects who we are. As described in IDEA, one of the essential objectives of transition planning is to develop and implement a plan of employment for our autistic individual. However, this may seem relatively straightforward; in reality, it is not.

The Autism Spectrum Disorder population is greatly underemployed or not employed at all. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), 19.3% of persons with disabilities were employed, compared with 66.3% of those without a disability. Equally striking is the underemployment rate for autistic individuals that continues to hover around 80%.

What are the reasons behind this statistic? 

  1. Public schools don’t start work experience and transition to work planning early enough.
  2. More emphasis is needed on soft skills, such as interacting with other people.
  3. Not enough practice time is spent on direct skills such as tasks that need to be completed for a job.
  4. Knowledge of the hidden workplace curriculum is not taught.
  5. ASD people experience executive functioning difficulties.
  6. Mental health issues such as anxiety or depression become barriers.
  7. Not enough support or collaboration from agencies for ASD job seekers.
  8. A lack of suitable ASD training programs.
  9. The applicant does not know enough about themselves to be successful.
  10. The applicant does not know what they want to do.

The effects of having a secure job and one that a person likes improves their quality of life, self-esteem, and well-being. But how do parents tackle this task? By breaking this process down into manageable steps. 

Understanding Yourself is the First Step

All students, whether or not they have autism, have a unique set of skills, strengths, and weaknesses. When working with autistic individuals, it is essential to identify their strengths. These identified strengths will be vital to unlocking their engagement, learning, interaction with others, and success.

Some common examples of strengths associated with autistic individuals are:

  • Specialist knowledge in topics of interest,
  • Exceptional memory for facts and figures,
  • Very high motivation levels in topics that they are interested in,
  • Being able to pay attention to detail, follow instructions and rules,
  • Exceptional skills in creative arts such as music at art,
  • Ability to see the world from a different perspective,
  • Ability to bring an innovative approach to problem-solving,
  • A tendency to be honest and nonjudgmental,
  • Have a strong sense of loyalty,
  • A unique sense of humor, and
  • Passionate about their hobbies and interest,

While this step can be overlooked, it is crucial to take the time to identify strengths and build on them.

Finding a Path Forward

While your child is still in school, it is vital to start the process of exploring and educating them about possible future careers. Review various job types that are available to your child based on their interests and strengths. Expose your child to specific career areas frequently and continue to build upon the skills needed for success in the workplace.

Actual work experience while your child is still in school is a meaningful way to help them succeed. Ways to explore careers are volunteer opportunities, internships, and job training. There may be opportunities to practice work, such as general office tasks, working in a store, or helping with after school programs.

Experiences such as internships can help with skill-building, job training, and the eventual job application process. Your child may be able to connect to a peer or mentor at the internship or volunteer site who can help them when needed. For young autistic adults who have more significant challenges, job coaches can help them reach their full potential.

For many autistic individuals, becoming tired is a problem. Depending on the career choices, your child may need to build stamina. It may help to start slowly with one hour per day/week and build up too many hours/days per week.

Types of Employment

There are many different types of employment options for autistic individuals. Autistic individuals don’t need to be pigeon-holed into one type of employment they can go from one kind of employment to another over time.

Here are several possible types of employment:

Competitive employment: a full or part-time job with market wages and responsibilities, with no long-term support needed.

Supported employment: a competitive job where the individual receives ongoing support services while working; can be funded through state developmental disabilities or vocational rehab services.

Customized employment: a job in which the individual’s strengths and abilities are used to develop a specific role/job.

Self-employment: a job situation in which the individual’s strengths are matched to a product/resource that will allow them to make money.

Sheltered employment: a job where individuals are not integrated with workers; generally supported by a combination of federal/state funds.

We all have to figure out what we want in life and what steps to take to get there. This may sound easy, but it isn’t for many of us, especially for ASD individuals, but you can assist your child with the following:

  • Create a personalized mission statement for themselves.
  • Discuss the importance of setting goals.
  • Teach how to set personal long- and short-term goals and why they are essential.
  • Use tools to teach time management skills.

Then…

  • Upon completing the goals, the next thing is to teach them how to share information about themselves appropriately,
  • Establishing their network for support,
  • Work on how to become their self-advocate,
  • Instruct how to create a good resume,
  • Teach how to talk about personal strengths,
  • Practice networking how to do it, what it looks like, and
  • Learn how to use public transportation. 

Finding that job 

This is the exciting part, but it also is the most challenging part. How to find a job and to keep a job are difficult for autistic individuals.

Job Matching and Searching

Finding the best possible job match is very challenging. Sometimes your child’s interest leads to a job. An example might be if your daughter is interested in hair, perhaps a job can be found at a local beauty parlor. Or if she like stacking items, maybe a job at the local grocery store is located.

When assisting your child in finding a job, consider doing the following:

  • Explore what a dream job might look like for your child,
  • Network with people who do the work that your child is interested in doing.
  • Job shadow people who work in their exciting line of work.
  • Find community resources that support autistic individuals, and
  • Have employers come and speak about what they value in their employees.

Don’t Forget Workplace Skills 

Adults with autism need to learn the skills required in the workplace. Not just skills related to the job, but social skills and the workplace environment rules. Examples of these skills include:

  1. Initiating and ending interactions with coworkers,
  2. Understanding and respecting boundaries,
  3. Asking questions when help is needed,
  4. Being patient in situations,
  5. Learning the best ways to respond when agitated,
  6. Maintaining proper hygiene, and
  7. Knowing what topics are appropriate in the workplace.

Practicing these skills at home and out in the community is essential for your autistic child, and the chances of success improve significantly if practiced.

As we know, family and friends play an essential part in our success. The same is true for autistic individuals, especially in the world of employment. It is important to remember and let others know that autistic persons can be positive contributors in the workplace. Encourage employers to look past the challenges your autistic child might face and see the skills that allow them to succeed. With your help, and that of others, your child will find a job, training opportunity that works for them, AND they will be successful!

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The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.

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