So, your child is nearly ready to begin a career in the workplace or perhaps he/she is already working and needs a new job. How do you help the child find the right kind of position and the right fit? How can you guide him/her?
Sometimes young people on the spectrum know which specific job they want based on career aspirations while others may need valuable job experiences as a transition point to the next job. And sometimes a child needs a job to ensure he/she can earn enough to support themselves to the best of abilities.
Regardless of the case, it’s important to define whether the young person is in need of a full-time, part-time, or per diem (aka ‘as needed’) position. For most jobs, full-time and part-time are the only options. However, in certain jobs in healthcare like mine, per diem is an additional option. The question is, “How can I advise my child on what to do?”
In my recent experiences, I have come up with a few points to consider before applying for and deciding on career options. Here are some good questions to ask yourself and points to keep in mind:
1. How many hours can your child realistically work per week? If he/she can work under 30 hours a week, part-time or per diem (if available) are good options. Otherwise, full-time is ideal.
2. Is having flexibility in work schedules meaningful to your child? If the answer is yes, per diem is the best choice. Part-time is the next best, followed by full-time.
3. Is having benefits important for your child (e.g. health insurance, bonus pay, 401K, other job related reimbursements etc.)? If the answer is yes, full-time is best. Part-time is in the middle, depending on the benefits of part-time employees in your child’s workplace. Per diem is not ideal in this situation as benefits are minimal or none.
4. Is financial stability important for your child? Full-time usually is the best. However, depending on policies for your child’s workplace, part-time can be just as good as full-time. In my current job, for example, I learned that someone with part-time status could still work up to full-time hours if they wished to. Last on the list is per diem.
5. How mentally flexible is your child? If your child is mentally flexible, per diem can create a way to achieve full-time hours. If your child is not, full-time or part-time is ideal. Per diem can be tough because your child might receive schedule changes with little or no notice.
6. If your child is working multiple jobs, he/she is responsible for constantly making a schedule for all the jobs logistically. This includes how many hours constitute part-time at each job and sick day policies. For example, I might make myself available Monday through Wednesday for one job and Thursday through Saturday for another job.I might have to take a switch day on a Sunday if I am out sick one day. Therefore, I recommend your child reads the policies for all the jobs before deciding when they will be available to work.
7. Both longevity in tenure and the number of hours your child can work at jobs are important in future job applications. Your child should aim to stay at a job for at least one to two years before moving on to another one. Meanwhile, 15-20 hours a week can be a good introductory goal for your child to get used to a job.As time goes on, if your child has the ability to work at least 30-40 hours a week regularly, this can expand options in future job searches. However, if your child can only do 20-30 hours a week, it is still good because that means he/she now gains insight that part-time position might be better off in the long run to improve the chances of holding onto a job.
8. Sometimes your child should take risks in terms of applying for positions he/she has skills to perform, but may not be as confident in. For my current position, for example, I was not confident in performing patient transfers and wasn’t sure how I could work with the elderly population.Working with supportive rehab teams and having parents willing to let me practice on them and them practice on me, has increased my confidence levels each week. The experiences I gained working with different types of patients also has sped up my learning curve. So, I was glad my mom told me to take a risk, as I wouldn’t have realized that my skills fit this setting a lot better than pediatrics.
9. Your child must have a basic idea of what his/her hourly wages should be. This is helpful in the salary negotiation process throughout your child’s tenure at a job. This doesn’t mean your child should pursue top dollar, it just means that your child should have some sense if his/her job is fair in terms of hourly wage and benefits.For example, I am making $40 an hour now in Los Angeles as an occupational therapist with one year of experience. In truth, I know it was a lowball offer, but I also know that I need this job to last at least a few more years before reevaluating my future career directions. So, I took the hourly wage without putting up much of a fight.
If you or your child has family and friends working in similar jobs that your child is applying for, be sure to ask whatever questions that you and your child feels necessary.
There is a lot for children on the spectrum to think about once he/she transitions to working in the real world. Finding employment statuses that work and jobs that best fit skills and minimize limitations are more important than trying to maximize what he/she is supposed to earn from day one. If your child has histories of short tenures at past jobs, it is imperative to figure out what went wrong and how to make the next job they land count.
Bill Wong is an Occupational Therapist licensed in California. He graduated with his masters and clinical doctorate in occupational therapy at University of Southern California in 2011 and 2013, respectively. He is the first autistic individual in the world to complete a doctorate degree of any kind in occupational therapy. He currently works as a per diem skilled nursing occupational therapist for Interface Rehab. He also serves as professional development mentors for three autistic occupational therapy students.
This article was featured in Issue 45 – Protecting Your Child with Autism