Excellent Ways to Transition to the Workplace With Autism
One hallmark of adulthood is landing a job. The world of work can be full of exciting possibilities: perhaps your child will be a scientist, an inspiring artist, or the CEO of a breakout company.
The progression of work is generally predictable and less interesting than our fanciful daydreams though, proceeding from unskilled labor toward skillful, meaningful employment. You can expect that your child will start with an entry-level position (fast food, grocery store) before landing in the corner office. Here are some ideas to help you and your child make that transition from school to the first job to meaningful work.
1. School prepares you for work. There are many similarities between school and work. The day moves along a predictable schedule, there are social hierarchies, you are expected to work independently and in a team, and compliments go a long, long way. Help your child see the commonalities between school (likely a comfortable, familiar place) and work.
2. There are unspoken hierarchies of work and school. Your child will likely start with an entry-level position (kindergarten) and work his or her way up the ladder (high school). Draw a ladder (or org chart), and discuss the social power that accompanies the rungs at work. Which students at school have social power—how do you know? Which way does feedback flow? What is a reasonable pathway for providing feedback to a teacher or employer?
–Imagine if your child was told by a supervisor, “My door is always open! We want your feedback!” Does a supervisor really mean this, or do they mean “Please limit yourself to 2-3 fairly positive comments about my role as a supervisor.” What other confusing, yet socially acceptable, phrases might a supervisor utter?
3. Help your child understand the roles at work such as employee, supervisor, and owner. The structure is similar to school (student, teacher, principal). There is social status and responsibility that accompanies each role. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of each station helps reduce stress and improve relationships.
–My client was chronically angry at work, changing jobs, ranting at supervisors. After many meetings, my client uttered, “He keeps telling me what to do. And when I do it, he gives me more things to do! It’s like he thinks he is the boss, but he is just a supervisor!” We then had a series of discussions about the role of the employee and supervisor.
We noted that just like a teacher, it is the responsibility of the supervisor to provide ongoing feedback to employees, continue to teach them new skills, and change expectations as the employee makes progress. This was news to my client. Once he understood the roles a bit better, he was less angry at work, no longer believing that his supervisor was behaving badly.
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4. Feedback at work is part of the deal. In the same way that teachers provide feedback (“Great job! Add another paragraph summarizing your findings.”), supervisors also provide feedback (“Thank goodness you are here. You spilled milk and need to clean that up!”)
–Students and employees who accept feedback are set up for success. Bonus points to individuals who actively solicit feedback. The phrase “I’d like to be a better employee. What are three ways I can improve this week?” will be music to a supervisor’s ears!
5. Internalize reinforcement. School is filled with moments of external feedback and reinforcement including grades on assignments and exams, positive comments from teachers/support staff, and formal awards. Work can be less obviously externally reinforcing. Cultivate a sense of internal rewards such as pride in work well done, effort, and stamina. Internal rewards can be quite satisfying and depend less on supervisors noticing a job well done.
6. Grow some stamina for prolonged or distasteful tasks. The workday will likely be based on shifts a few hours long. Get your child to the point that he or she can work diligently for three hours before needing a longer break.
7. Generalize from other life experiences. Draw the parallels from success in school and other aspects of life to success at work. Maybe your child demonstrates a great sense of humor, artistic talent, is polite, or persistent in tasks. These same talents and skills can be showcased at work.
8. Highlight the notion that work supports leisure. As adults, we can afford leisure activities because we have jobs that pay us. While many of us work because we find meaning and fulfillment in our jobs, we are also dependent upon that paycheck to fund our lives and hobbies. Get a great job so you can afford your awesome hobbies!
While the journey from school to work can be challenging at times, we can all start to prepare our loved ones and clients to enter the world of work by capitalizing on successes. Highlighting strengths, previous areas of success, and keeping an eye toward roles and responsibilities will likely benefit our future workers.
This article was featured in Issue 89 – Solutions for Today and Tomorrow with ASD