HELP: How Do I Help My Autistic Teen Find the Best Job?
Can you give me some advice on teaching vocational skills to those with autism?– Karen
This is such an important topic. Research indicates that up to 85% of those with autism are unemployed or under-employed! The areas of difficulty for our teens and young adults on the spectrum are obvious: communication struggles, social delays, and behavioral concerns. But there are ways to capitalize on strengths and help our autistic loved ones gain employment.
The first thing to think about is: What is the person interested in? If a teen with autism absolutely loves computers but hates cleaning, a janitorial job is probably not the right fit, whereas data entry or computer programming might be right up his/her alley! Just like anyone else, those with autism should find a profession they can (at least somewhat) enjoy. Otherwise, they will likely be unmotivated and unsuccessful.
Next, consider what skills are actually needed to be part of the workforce. There are vocational skills, but then there are interpersonal skills. Both are equally as important. For example: if a person can fix any computer virus, but refuses to take directions or feedback from others, he/she won’t be a successful computer technician. Similarly, if a person is friendly and engaging but has no idea how to cut vegetables, he/she won’t make a great chef’s assistant. We have to teach not only the skills needed to do the actual job, but how to relate to and interact with customers, co-workers, and bosses.
Researchers have found that some of the most important qualities to employers include things like: following directions, asking for help, honesty, and sharing information with others. These will be key to obtaining and maintaining a job. Here are some other ways you can help:
You can role-play various scenarios to prepare the person for every stage from the job application, to the interview, to performing the job. You can provide scenarios and teach the person what an appropriate response might be, and what types of things would not be OK. For example: If you’re at work and you can’t remember how to do a refund on the cash register, what should you do? If a customer is rude to you, how should you respond? If you lose a piece of your uniform, what should you do?
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Whatever skills may be necessary for the job should be practiced ahead of time, and on an on-going basis if needed. On-the-job training will hopefully provide the person with opportunities to practice the skills, too. But you can provide extra support by working on things outside of the work day. For example: how to fold napkins, filing paperwork, counting money, etc.
Believe it or not, Pinterest has TONS of ideas on ways to target job-specific skills. For example: they have games for teaching someone to construct a burrito, or to sweep the floor correctly. Check out their website for more tips and tricks on specific job training ideas.
Lastly, here are some big-name US businesses that have been committed to hiring those with autism:
I hope this helps! And remember that finding the right job requires finding not only what the person is good at, but what the person actually enjoys! As the saying goes “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Angelina M. works as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, specializing in assessing and treating children and adolescents with autism, down-syndrome, and other developmental delays. She began her career in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2006, following her youngest brother’s autism diagnosis, and has since worked with dozens of children and families. She also writes a blog about her experiences as both a professional and a big sister. Her brother, Dylan, remains her most powerful inspiration for helping others who face similar challenges.
This article was featured in Issue 63 – Keeping Our Kids Safe