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Employment Strategies for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

Posted by National Autism Network , in For Individuals with ASD, Strategies for Parents, Education and Autism News 11 October 2013 · 536 views

employment transition services autism and employment
Employment Strategies for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Research has shown that the characteristics of autism can make it difficult to succeed in the job market. This combined with the lack of career services for young people with autism once they graduate high school, are contributing to the extreme unemployment rate for individuals with autism, which is as high as 90 percent in developed countries.1 However, recent research has shown that students on the autism spectrum who receive structured job training supports in high school can excel in the job market after graduation.2  Students with disabilities are guided through their school years by their Individualized Education Program (IEP). In high school, one of the main objectives of the IEP is to instill a skillset that will allow you to obtain a job in the field of your choosing post-graduation. This article will explore the types of transition services available to individuals on the autism spectrum and discuss the necessary skills you must possess to obtain and hold a job.

Transition Services
The main purpose of education is to prepare the individual for independent life by providing the knowledge, real-world skills, and experience they require to excel in a career field of their choosing. The educational goals for individuals with disabilities are no different, but they are structured uniquely with a greater emphasis on preparing for life after high school (when they are no longer eligible for the services under IDEA). As an individual on the spectrum, the transition services under IDEA are designed to help you develop the skills necessary to function independently after high school, but, in this case, we will be focusing solely on the transition services that are related to employment. These are developed by an IEP team that includes parents, professionals, educators, and the student, when possible. Under IDEA, the IEP must include transition services beginning no later than age 16, although, ideally, career exploration should begin by age 14.3 You first want to begin by implementing services into your IEP for career exploration and vocational preparation. A functional vocational assessment, which involves written and hands-on assessments to determine your strengths, weaknesses, interests, ability to perform on the job, what you need help with, and what your likes and dislikes are relating to a particular job, should be completed as an initial step towards developing transition services.4 Ways to complete a functional vocational assessment include filling out questionnaires, attending job and career fairs, or through community asset mapping. Community asset mapping is a helpful classroom or homework activity that requires the student to make a list of potential employers in the community through an internet search. This list should include all the types of jobs available in the community to be used later as a way to narrow down job shadowing and internship opportunities.4 According to a recent small study, 21 of 24 students with who participated in a nine-month high school program of rotating internships at hospitals found higher than minimum wage jobs compared to an abysmal 1 in 16 who did not participate in internships or receive extra career support.1 By the end of your sophomore year, plans should be in place within your IEP for internships, job sampling, and/or attending job shadowing programs.4

At the beginning of your junior year, you should apply for Vocational Rehabilitation services, which is a “federally mandated program administered by states to support people with disabilities in assessing and maintaining employment. VR uses a linear model of eligibility, assessment and intervention to assist consumers to prepare for, obtain and maintain work.”5 Find out if you are eligible for these services by contacting your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. Individuals who are eligible to become a client of VR will be provided with a technical consultation so that the appropriate services may begin after graduation. By your senior year, your IEP should have employment goals, including part-time employment during your senior year, vocational training, internships/job shadowing, employment development and/or job search activities.4 Many schools offer a work internship program as a credit, so that a student will essentially have an afternoon free period to attend their job and still have time for schoolwork in the evening. Transition services should educate you to the different types of employment opportunities available to individuals on the autism spectrum. Transition services should also provide disclosure and self-advocacy skills training. These skills will help you to express your diagnosis to the necessary parties and will assist you in requesting necessary accommodations that can increase your productivity and comfort in the workplace.

Finding and Obtaining Employment
By engaging in the above transition services you will have hopefully narrowed down the type of occupation you would like to make a career and have developed skills that will help you to land a job in that field. Unfortunately, that is just one leg of the journey to landing a job. You must undergo a lot of preparation once you have found a career that you feel is suitable for your needs and expectations. In addition to interview skills, you must possess employment and navigation skills to properly function in the office environment. Navigation skills are sometimes referred to as the “hidden curriculum,” which “is the social information that is not directly taught but is assumed that everybody knows… the hidden curriculum refers to those unstated rules or customs that, if not understood can make the world a confusing place…”6 Global employment skills and navigation skills are described below:7,8

Global Employment Skills
  • Communication and Social Skills- don’t be afraid to ask for help, other tasks that can be completed after you are done working, and have knowledge of appropriate social actions (e.g. greetings, personal space, etc.)
  • Self-Management Strategies- You must decide for yourself when to conduct certain tasks as your workday will not be structured with tasks from beginning to end. Inquire about flexibility as to when you take lunch, how to request more work when all tasks are completed, and how fast you must get your work done. Individuals who work to prepare students with autism for future jobs should teach strategies that allow the student to self-monitor/self-record their progress, evaluate if expectations have been fulfilled, and self-reward when expectations are met.
  • Problem Solving and Coping Skills- Generally, the proposed problem solving strategies are broken down into 1. Identify the problem, 2. Explore option, and 3. Choose the best solution. Individuals who are more severely affected by autism may demonstrate difficulties with this process. In this case, it may be helpful to provide the individual with a cheat-sheet containing “if-then” statements and a list of communication skills.
Navigation Skills
  • Navigation Skills- These are some of the unwritten rules that may seem obvious to individuals not on the spectrum, but may need to be spelled out for autistic employees. A job coach or trainer may have to work diligently to make sure that an individual knows these rules and may require direct instruction for their implementation. They are discussed in the bullet points below:
    • Using Social Amenities
    • Terminating Conversations
    • Sharing Workspace
    • Accepting Correction
    • Responding Assertively
    • Using Appropriate Greetings
    • Accepting Suggestions
    • Asking for Help/ Revealing a Problem
    • Waiting in Line/ Taking Turns
  • Other skills are more job specific, such as:
    • Walking in the Hallways
    • What to do During Lunch Breaks
    • Appropriate Work Discussion Topics
    • Travel Skills
    • Proper Attire and Grooming
    • Maintaining a Schedule
    • Possessing Self-Advocacy Skills          

Interview Tips
In addition to the above skills, there are universal interview skills that should be mastered by all potential employees in order to make a lasting impression on your potential employer. You are NOT required to disclose your diagnosis to your potential employer during the interview process. However, employers have the right to ask if you will be able to perform specific functions of your job, which may require you to disclose your disability.9 It may also be easier to disclose your diagnosis than to try and hide it during the initial interview. If you decide to disclose, provide your potential employer with a letter from your physician detailing what your diagnosis is, how it affects you, potential accommodations you may require, and a list of your strengths.10 If you don’t disclose and get the job, you may want to consider revealing your diagnosis in order to receive reasonable accommodations that can assist you with all facets of your job. Our additional resources section includes information about workplace disclosure (see below).  The universal tips below are gathered from My Aspergers Child10 and will help prepare you for your next big interview:
  • Bring extra copies of your résumé- Some interviews are conducted by a panel and this way they don’t have to share.
  • Arrive at least 20 minutes early- This will show your potential employers you are punctual, eager to get the job, and will give you some extra time to tie up any potential loose ends with your preparation.
  • Make eye contact­- This can be difficult for an individual with Asperger’s, but you must try in order to be viewed as someone who is paying attention during the interview process. If you are unable to look into their eyes, pick another focal point on their forehead or the bridge of their nose.
  • Dress to Impress­- Do not come into the interview in your street clothes, regardless of the position. Make sure that you wear proper attire: dress shirt, a tie, nice pants, and dress shoes. Do not wear any hats, sunglasses, or any other unnecessary accessories that may convey an air of unprofessionalism. Make sure to shower, shave, and look as presentable as possible.
  • Answer all questions- Do this to the best of your ability. Some questions may be abstract in nature, but answer them as well as you can and be honest. Keep your answers short, but demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the subject matter and allow your personality to seep through during your responses.
  • Practice makes perfect- Interview practice should be included in your transition services as part of your IEP. Practice with a parent or teacher and have them ask you typical interview questions. During these sessions you should practice conveying positive body language, making eye contact, and annunciating clearly. It may be advantageous to tape these sessions so that you can review the areas on which you need to work after these sessions.
  • Do your homework- Prepare yourself for the interview by learning about the position and the company. Make sure you are qualified and able to take on the tasks listed in the job description. Learn the specifics of the company’s targeted demographic, the types of products/services they sell, and potential reasons as to why you should be hired based on these facts.
  • Do not take notes during the interview- The interview process is hard enough without having to worry about jotting down every little detail. If you are asked back to another interview or get the position they will provide you with materials to familiarize yourself with before your next meeting.
  • Contact the after the interview- Follow-up with the interviewer to keep in touch and keep your name at the top of their mind. This process can be made easier by inquiring when you can expect a call from them. Do not get discouraged if you don’t hear back for an extended period of time, but instead contact the employer via email reminding them of your interview and include something helpful, like an article relating to the subject matter of your interview. This way they will remember your interview and realize that you took something away from the process. 11
  • Relax- No matter how many interviews you go on, the nerves may never go away. However, there are things you can do to relax. Completing the aforementioned items, like looking presentable, researching/preparing, and practicing interview strategies will give you the confidence you need to relax. By looking confident you will convey confidence, even if your heart is racing on the inside. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself and remind yourself that “you can do this.”
Summary
The current state of employment for individuals with autism is deplorable, but there are those who are working to improve the current state of affairs. More research is being conducted on the types of industry that allow individuals with autism to excel in the workplace. According to Carol Shall, a researcher who was involved in the aforementioned study that found that with the right supports individuals with autism can find gainful employment, the “key was discovering each student’s unique set of skills.”2 You possess the tools to enter into a viable career that will allow you to function as an independent member of society. It is just a matter of finding the right supports and putting forth the necessary effort honing the skills that will allow you to achieve your goals.

Additional Resources: References:
1.    Geggel, Laura. “Career Assistance.” Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). September 6, 2013. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://sfari.org/new...reer-assistance.
2.    Geer, Carolyn T. “Training Program Helps Students with Autism Land Jobs.” Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2013. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://online.wsj.co...3258.html?dsk=y.
3.    Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 §20 U.S.C. §1400 (2004). Accessed October 9, 2013. http://www.copyright...n/pl108-446.pdf.
4.    Baker, Jed. Preparing for Life: The Complete Guide for Transitioning to Adulthood for those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, Inc., 2005.
5.    Kaut, Jennifer. “Navigating Services – Vocational Rehabilitation Program.” Autism Speaks, Inc. November 6, 2012. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://www.autismspe...itation-program.
6.    Endow, Judy. “Navigating the Social World: The Importance of Teaching and Learning the Hidden Curriculum.” Autism Advocate, 3rd ed. (2010): 1-4. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://www.autism-so...-curriculum.pdf.
7.    Dahl, Norm and Alan Arici. “Employment Planning for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Speaker’s Journal 8, no. 15 (Fall 2008): 157-164. Accessed October 9, 2013.
8.    “Employment and Other Options.” Autism Speaks, Inc. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://www.autismspe.../employment.pdf.
9.    Pimentel, Richard. “The Art of Disclosing Your Disability.” Milt Wright & Associates, Inc. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://www.miltwrigh...rDisability.pdf.
10.   “Job Interview Skills for People with Aspergers.” My Aspergers Child. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://www.myasperge...e-with.html?m=1.
11.   “4 Non-Annoying Ways to Follow Up After an Interview.” Forbes, May 5, 2012. Accessed October 9, 2013. http://www.forbes.co...r-an-interview/.