Determining a career path for young adults on the spectrum can be challenging for both parents and young adults. There are simple steps to work through with your young adult to get clarity on potential career options and interests.
When starting career exploration, knowing how a young adult learned and processed information while in school can help identify potential career paths. Matching styles of learning with career options are important to long-term success. There are four primary styles of learning associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders: visual, verbal, math/logic, and kinesthetic.
Some careers are better suited for some styles than others. For example, a young adult with the primary style of math/logic may find a career in finance will be more fulfilling than a career in public relations. While someone with a kinesthetic primary style of learning may find a career in a labor field more satisfying.
Most jobs require an employee use all styles in day-to-day functions. Knowing how to switch between the styles is just as important as knowing which style is a primary or dominate style. For example, most jobs will require an employee work independently while still being able to work in teams at times. It is important to know how to communicate within a team, verbally and written, while being able to complete work on one’s own.
Often young adults ask, “How do I know what my primary style of learning is and how do I match it with a job?” The first step is to make lists that focus on: 1) skills and strengths, 2) interests and passions, and 3) how he/she learns or communicates while in school or in social interactions. Reflect about his/her coursework in school; what was his/her favorite course?
How was the information presented? What made the information easier or harder to learn? For example, reading may be a challenge, yet art classes were fun or drawing an essay was easier than writing it. This may indicate a visual style of learning. Another example would be when a young adult preferred having information told to him/her versus reading or doing math problems. This would indicate a verbal style of learning.
Once he/she has completed the lists, the next step is to take the skills/strengths and interests/passions and search for possible careers. Start by using these lists as keyword searches for online job boards. In reading through job postings, see if the duties and responsibilities line up with the preferred style of learning and communication. If so, this may be a good fit!
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I recommended young adults on the spectrum gain experience in many areas to see what best aligns with their style of learning, interests, and skills. Through a part-time job, volunteering, and internships, a young adult can see what type of work best fits his/her interests, what environment he/she works well in, and how his/her styles align with certain types of work. The more experience a young adult gains, the more he/she may be able to expand his/her skills and interests and see how his/her styles of learning and communication adjust to different work environments.
Parents can help encourage their children to start thinking about what career they want by making these lists at an early age—it is never too early! As the child gains more experience in school, participates in extra-curricular activities, and engages with the social world, his/her lists should expand.
Anytime a child or young adult can talk to a professional in the field that interests them or experience the field first-hand, these experiences will amplify the young adult’s excitement for and clarity of his/her career path. Additionally, through these experiences, gaps for additional learning and experiences will be made known.
In these situations, parents can assist the young adult in seeking more education as needed. The clearer a young adult can be about his/her own skills, interests, and styles, the more likely he/she will be able to match his/her passion to a career.
This article was featured in Issue 98 – Fresh ASD Guidance For A New Year