Employment with ASD | Organization for Autism Research

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This blog post has been adapted from “Chapter 4: Vocation and Employment” of OAR’s resource “A Guide for Transition to Adulthood”.

As a parent of a young adult with ASD, you may have struggled to adjust your expectations for the future you once dreamed of for your child. But realistic, concrete goals and expectations are the foundation of a successful transition plan. It is important not only to set goals that can be reached by your young adult, building one on the next, but also to be sure to challenge your young adult and leave room to be pleasantly surprised by all that they can accomplish through this process. 

worker man

As you begin the employment search process, think about the “big picture” of your young adult’s future:

  1. What do you want your young adult’s life to look like 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years from now?
  2. What do you NOT want your young adult’s life to look like in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years from now?  
  3. What will they require to get to one and avoid the other? 

The employment available for an individual with ASD reflects the breadth of the entire job market. Generally, a job may belong to any of three categories that vary in the amount of support they offer the worker with a disability. Ranging from least to most supportive, these categories are competitive employment, supported employment, and secured or segregated employment―although neither is mutually exclusive, and an individual may find employment in more than one category.

Competitive Employment

  • A full-time or part-time job with market wages and responsibilities 
  • Fully integrated into general workforce
  • Usually requires special skills
  • Natural supports and natural consequences 
  • Examples include waiting on tables, cutting grass, fixing cars, teaching, computer programming, etc.

Supported Employment

  • Work in competitive jobs alongside neurotypical individuals
  • Community integration
  • Wages and benefits
  • ‘Place first, then train’ model
  • Built-in safety net
  • Personalized, flexible, and wide-ranging supports in place

“Entrepreneurial supports”- is a term for a new and particularly innovative type of supported employment. In this situation, a new business is created around the skills and interests of a very limited number of individuals. 

  • Example: A young adult who likes to destroy things he does not see as “perfect” could have entrepreneurial support developed for him where he would go to different offices and be their document shredder. For documents office workers want shredded, they could tear the corner (making it imperfect), and he could then gladly feed it into the shredder. 
  • Examples of work environments allowing this type of support often include Universities, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and small businesses.

Secured or Segregated Employment*

  • Focus on group learning and basic skill building 
  • Minimal compensation or unpaid
  • Behavioral supports in place through job tenure 
  • Supported by a combination of Federal and/or state funds
  • Examples typically include tasks such as collating, assembling, or packaging.

*Critical Reception Note: While such programs remain available, critics argue that the sheltered workshop system is more often geared toward the fostering of dependence within a tightly supervised, non-therapeutic environment than toward encouraging independence in the community at large.  Additionally, the idea that people with disabilities deserve to be paid less or not paid at all is offensive to many disability activists.
computer hands

Range of Possible Jobs

Possible jobs include re-shelving library books, factory assembly work, custodial jobs, restocking shelves, computer programming, teaching, engineering, analyzing stocks and bonds, indexing books, copy editing, landscape design, and more.

If you are unable to find anything that seem appropriate for your young adult, you may have to craft something specific to match their interests and skills.  Check out Appendix I for more job ideas. 

constructioncomputer guy

librarian

chef

science girl
 
 
 

 

 Personal Interests

As with any adolescent, your young adult with ASD may have strong, very strong in some cases, personal interests and hobbies. These preferences may be discovered by observing your young adult to see what makes them happy, what they do during downtime, or what items or activities motivate them.

In addition, asking yourself or your young adult (as the central figure in this process) questions like the following can form another jumping off point for considering future educational and vocational options:

  1. Are there certain topics or activities of particular interest to your young adult?  What are your young adult’s dreams?   
  2. Are there certain topics, activities, or environmental conditions that your young adult does not like or has difficulty tolerating? 
  3. What are your young adult’s current academic or related strengths or talents?  
  4. What kind of support will your young adult require to achieve their goals after graduation? 

Systematically answering these questions will allow you to begin to see the connections between what your young adult is good at and interested in now, and what your young adult can do in the future.   During the transition process, you and your young adult can work together to complete the worksheet Appendix D to document your young adult’s personal interests and explore their connections to the transition goals.  

Workplace-Specific Social Skills

Personal Presentation handshake

Once your young adult has gained employment, they will represent the company they work for. People also make judgments about an individual based on their appearance. Therefore, it is important that your young adult present themselves appropriately and professionally. 

Aspects of personal presentation include: 

  • Age- and job-appropriate clothing and footwear  
  • General cleanliness and good hygiene of hair, teeth, and nails 
  • Interpersonal greetings ranging from someone saying “Hello” to shaking hands and initiating an introduction  

Communication 

Individuals on the spectrum typically experience great difficulty effectively communicating their wants, needs, likes, or dislikes. As such, instruction in the following communicative skill sets may be appropriate as a function of individual interest and/or ability.

Aspects of communication skills include:

  • When, and with whom, it might be appropriate to start a conversation
  • Expressing preferences or likes  
  • Listening skills  
  • Obtaining help when necessary  
  • Voice volume, tone, and tempo 

Social Behavior

Social behaviors, by definition, are particularly challenging for individuals on the spectrum. Complicating this issue for learners with ASD is the belief among many employers that social competence on the job (e.g., being a team player) is as important as production competence.

Aspects of expected social behavior:

  • General manners, including responding to greetings, not interrupting others, appropriate discussion topics, etc.
  • Awareness of others’ personal space across all work environments  
  • Understanding private behavior as being different from public behavior  
  • Tolerance of unusual sounds, actions, behavior of others, and changes in the schedule of activities 

Whether a job provides financial support, personal fulfillment, social opportunities, or some combination of these, it is a very important component of adult life. OAR’s A Guide for Transition to Adulthood is a comprehensive handbook to the many areas that parents should consider while assisting their young adults through their transitions, including the transition to employment.  Available in both English and Spanish, you can order or download a copy today for more information!

Stay tuned for our October Newsletter for more employment tips!  


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