Preparing Transition-aged Autistic Youth for the Workplace | Organization for Autism Research

How To

Communicating how you do your best work is essential to employment success. By understanding their individual needs and communication styles, autistic job applicants and employees can advocate for the tools they require to do their best work. Parents and teachers can begin early to develop that understanding by modeling and teaching self-advocacy skills through understanding strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. When autistic individuals know what supports they need to be successful, they can advocate for themselves with future employers.

Autistic job applicants and employees should:


  • Know their learning style.
    • How parents and educators can help: Invest in assisting the individual in understanding how they learn best. Parents should take some time to understand different learning styles and point out when and how their young person is using those learning styles. Awareness is the first step for the individual to understand themselves and the seed to communicate their understanding to others.

      When someone understands if they are a visual, auditory, or tactile learner, they can learn strategies that fit their learning style. The individual can call on those strategies when information is presented outside of their learning style. For example, when a teacher is giving verbal instructions, and the individual is a visual learner, they can acknowledge they may have difficulty following through and ask the teacher if they will write down the instructions. Or, the individual can ask the teacher to demonstrate while they speak the instructions. Having several techniques to use is the first step in understanding what they need to be successful and communicating how they work best.


  • Be confident in speaking up for themselves.
    • How parents and educators can help: Encourage and teach self-advocacy skills. Every moment is a learning moment. Encourage self-advocacy behaviors you see the individual using. Model self-advocacy by asking for what you need in personal and professional situations. Self-advocacy behaviors can be as simple as ordering their food at a restaurant, asking for a correction when their meal is wrong, or talking to a salesperson in a store to ask questions when they want to buy something. As parents, we often speak for our children, but an opportunity for self-advocacy has been lost when we do this.

      As they become comfortable and empowered, they will begin to hold those around them accountable for listening. In time, they will learn that sometimes you don’t always get exactly what you ask for. Still, they have started creating a better environment in school, work, and other aspects of life to participate with more confidence. When young people understand the self-advocacy behaviors in action and understand how to use them, self-advocacy will become a habit they can apply in all aspects of their lives.


  • Ask to show, not tell.
    • What autistic individuals, parents, and educators should know: For the autistic job candidate, the anxiety of new environments can be paralyzing. Person-job-environment fit is critical for autistic employees and taking steps to ensure a better fit is vital. This begins with the youth understanding themselves and communicating how they work best.

      A core challenge autistics face is communicating in casual social situations and about their interests in a constructive, employment-type way. This difficulty creates a significant barrier to employment for many autistics. By understanding this may be a limitation, autistic job seekers can ask to show, not tell. Work-based interviews and job previews provide an opportunity for the autistic candidate to put their skills into action. The potential employer benefits by seeing how the individual completes the essential job functions and how the autistic individual troubleshoots and asks questions. Parents and educators can continue the self-advocacy lessons by giving them the language and practices of asking to try the job during the interview. It will take some time, but the individual will start feeling the benefits of showing, not telling, and will be more comfortable communicating this with future employers.

      Work-based interviews show what the autistic job candidate can do and help break down some of the anxiety of being in the potential work environment. By spending a short amount of time in the possible new environment, the individual will have the opportunity to process the tasks and the atmosphere. This simulation opportunity will break down more barriers to a successful employment experience. They also have a chance to process if the work will maintain their interest.

      Another benefit of “showing” a potential employer what they can do is that accommodations may become holistically apparent to the employer, which may assist them in seeing how adjustments can be made without having to create a formal process. Research informs us that the word “accommodation” coming from a potential or current employee can be off-putting. Making the process more constructive, as discussed, also makes it less intimidating for all involved.


  • Have opportunities to try new experiences.
    • How parents and educators can help: Provide the autistic individual with the chance to try new things. By stepping outside their intense interests, they may find something they love as much or more. My son is an excellent example of this. He is an avid video gamer, but he fell in love with writing. Now he is in college, majoring in creative writing with a minor in video game design. His goal is to write storylines for video games. He was able to take an intense interest and marry it with a new skill that he enjoyed. That blending will enable him to make a living and create an independent life. Making those connections that will allow independence will look different for each person. It’s a given that the individual will find they enjoy some of those new experiences and not others.

      It’s important to keep introducing, but not forcing, new experiences. I saw this in action at one of my client organizations. We bring in groups of potential employees to tour the organization and try out different aspects of open jobs. Then we ask them to come back again, introducing more of the available jobs. Each time, they try out more and more of the job they will be doing. After three times or so, they were sold and told me when they wanted to start. This is an excellent, if unique, example of how to slowly introduce an environment and tasks and make them less scary.

      When an individual has intense interests and it is difficult to change focus, I recommend a few things. The first is informational interviews with someone with an occupation that aligns with their interests. For example, if the autistic individual has an interest in history, setting up informational interviews with people who work in the field, such as a history professor or a writer who focuses on historical fiction, may open up career possibilities.


As parents and educators, let’s figure out how to teach self-advocacy skills in the most effective ways for autistic individuals we work with. We can equip them with the skills that will empower them to ask their potential and current employers for what they need in positive ways and are likely to be well received. Through this positive approach, they can explain how they can do their best work in the job and be maximally productive.

Tiffany JamesonTiffany Jameson, MBA, PHR, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and the mother of two neurodivergent children. She is the founder of grit & flow, a consultancy that focuses on helping organizations create practices inclusive of all types of cognitive and communication styles. She is passionate about creating workplaces where everyone can thrive by bringing their authentic selves and life experiences.

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