Top Ways Autistic Teens Can Transition to the Workplace
“I need to have some tangible success in my life. I want to get up in the morning…and think, Okay, I’m going to work. What am I going to do today at work? And when I come home in the evening feel like I’ve had a long fulfilling day and I’m earning my money. That feeling that all kids want, which is to be an adult.”
— Documentary Best and Most Beautiful Things, Michelle Smith, an autistic woman who is legally blind
Most of us would agree there are many benefits to employment beyond the monetary rewards, such as gaining a sense of identity and purpose and feeling like a contributing member to society. No doubt, holding down a job can add to a decrease in isolation and an increase in confidence and foster a sense of control, order, and responsibility in one’s life. Work experience assists in building interpersonal relationships and problem solving skills. Most of us would also concur that searching for employment is challenging and anxiety-producing for many individuals—even for the experienced job-seeker—but particularly for a young adult on the autism spectrum.
For all job-seekers, it’s smart to be prepared for tangibles, such as the resume and interview process. However, for the autistic young adult in search of employment, it’s important to first address unique considerations before jumping into the job hunt. Below is a list of tips for young job-seekers on the autism spectrum as they set out in search of gainful employment.
1. Research Autism
Take time out to read up about autism, preferably from an autistic perspective. Autistics are a minority and a subculture in this society. It’s important to know your own culture and people. Understanding autism helps one to connect, gain a support system, and understand one’s self better. Spectrum Suite, LLC has an extensive list of professional autistics and autistic blogs. Knowing about autism provides valuable insights into preparing for the future. Studying autism can enable you to ask for accommodations, be able to self-advocate, and find the courage to stick up for yourself. Key terms to explore might include: executive functioning, dyspraxia, anticipatory anxiety, prosopagnosia, object permanence, and #actuallyautistic.
2. Get Motivated
When seeking out a potential vocation, motivation is essential. Before delving into the job hunt, take a realistic look at what motivates you and understand what factors might affect motivation. As Rozella Stewart from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism explains, a person’s motivation is greatly influenced by learning style, internal and external incentives, expectations of success or failure, and meaningfulness and purposefulness of the task from the perspective of the learner. Analyze what incentives have worked in the past and apply similar incentives to your future job search. Perhaps purchase something of special interest for yourself after a specific job search step is reached. Putting measures in place to help ensure your efforts to find work will likely include more benefits than struggles. Focus on success and what a successful job search looks like. Attach meaning to the search—what is the desired outcome and what can the outcome bring to fruition? And don’t forget to reward yourself for your efforts.
3. Learn How You Learn Best
Knowing how you learn best can assist you in gaining and retaining new information related to your job search. Explore your unique learning style. Do you like to study at home, in the library, in your room, with music, or in silence? Do you retain information best in the early morning, before you eat, or after you take a nap? Consider online learning style inventories such as The Paragon Learning Style Inventory. Reflect back on what has worked in the past, what might work better in the future, and how to approach a job search plan. Don’t just write steps down to follow. Develop a formula that works best for you. Would a colorful visual map be effective, a check off list, a journal or logbook, an excel spreadsheet, reading books, or listening to information? Determine the best approach to help you learn the best!
4. Build a Support System
It’s essential to have a support system when venturing out in search of work, particularly for autistic individuals who may have faced alienation, repeated bullying, or rejection in the past. Support can be found in:
- Mental health counselors
- Members of autism organizations
- Friends and family
- Members of place of worship
- School personnel
- Autistic adult mentors
- Autistic peer mentors
- Career fair event planners
- Vocational counselors
- Online autism groups members
Make a list and highlight the people you feel most comfortable contacting. Prepare what you will say and how you will reach out for help. Have a trusted adult review your list and correspondence ideas. Part of gaining independence and a greater sense of well-being is learning how to ask for help.
5. Build Confidence
Build up your self-confidence. A sense of self-assurance is a definite attribute potential employers will look for in a job candidate. Before setting out on the job hunt, develop a plan to build up your sense of self-worth. It’s not always an easy task and takes some time and dedication, but increasing confidence in yourself will assist you throughout life. Aspire to take small strides toward embracing your unique outlook on life, your attributes, and your skill set. Here are some ideas to help increase self-confidence:
- Learn new skills and brush up on acquired skills
- Develop a support system
- Research self-empowerment and self-advocacy
- Read about autistic role models
- Practice persistence and follow through
- Know your personal values
- List out what beneficial attributes you could contribute to the workplace
6. Adapt a Practical Approach
Explore areas of interest with a practical approach. You can build toward having your ideal job while taking on another job. Each job will add to your skillset and vocational experience and help you understand what works and what doesn’t work for you. You can gain valuable skills by contributing to an establishment that isn’t your dream job. You never know what job might lead to other possibilities. Opportunities are easier to find when you are out in the workforce. Your current supervisor might be a future reference on your resume, or a colleague might recommend you to another person. Sometimes jobs or job roles are stepping-stones. You might find practical advice or inspiration by checking out a career site, such as CareerShip.
7. Gain Work Experience
Job seekers need to list some type of work experience on their resume. It’s often difficult for someone who has never had a job to get that initial foot in the door. One proactive way to expand work experience is to look beyond paid work. Job recruiters at ULTRA Testing in the USA welcome a variety of paid and unpaid work experience, including working as an independent contractor, self-employment, self-study, vocational training, volunteer agencies, internship/work study, job shadowing, apprenticeship, teacher’s assistantship, and mentoring. Don’t discount high school experiences, such as Boy/Girl Scouts or leadership in a club. What’s important is putting effort into gaining experience, no matter the form. Employers are looking for individuals who stand out and show initiative and drive. A new jobseeker might not have paid work experience, but if that individual can demonstrate effort and dedication, those attributes can go a long way. Consider signing up for an online tutorial, visiting a company and doing an informative interview (where you ask questions about the workplace), enrolling in an educational class, volunteering at an agency, starting an online blog or a home business, or working for a neighbor.
8. Develop a Network Strategy
Networking is a necessary part of the job search for most. For some on the autism spectrum, the anxiety that accompanies reaching out to others will always be a part of life. However, as autistics, we can establish strategies to push ourselves through the first contact and reap the rewards for our hard efforts. Develop a network plan by listing people, resources, and ideas, as well as potential individuals and places that may be able to provide employment leads or work opportunities. Determine who, how, and when to contact, and what to say. Here is a potential list of people and places for outreach:
- Career-Centered: career-interest assessment, library research, job fair, job board, online resource list, college event, online job search, LinkedIn
- Service-Providers: employment specialist, teacher, dentist, daycare provider, disability services, career centers at university
- Personal Connections: parent, neighborhood friend, classmate, neighbor, church, club, relative, social media friend, volunteer center
9. Recognize and Address Roadblocks
During your upcoming job search, you will likely encounter some challenges. To address challenges, plan points of rest during your job quest. Know that it will be overwhelming at times when looking for work. Understand self-doubts are OK. Where to start your plan of action, narrowing down a realistic job match, locating support, maneuvering the recruitment process, and thinking about transportation logistics can contribute to anxiety. Remember—you don’t have to have solutions to everything all at once. Looking for a job is a process. Find a support person to reassure you when you are stuck and not able to go forward. Develop a strategy to address challenges that are most likely to affect you and delay progress. Seek out support for areas that are beyond your expertise. And remember to pat yourself on the back for trying your best!
Samantha Craft, M Ed is the CEO of Spectrum Suite LLC, the job recruiter for ULTRA Testing, an autism educator, and the author of the blog and book Everyday Aspergers. She serves as chair of the selection committee at the ANCA World Autism Festival and is active in autism groups locally and globally. She can be reached on Twitter at aspergersgirls and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was featured in Issue 62 – Motherhood: An Enduring Love