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It’s Not About “the Degree”

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It’s not just about the degree.” This is probably the most common phrase I say to parents when I am speaking with them. Getting a college degree can help a student to get a job in most cases; but for students on the spectrum, it is much more complicated than that. What good is a degree if one does not know how to hold a job or form relationships? Everything in our lives is a relationship, whether you are buying some milk, dating, or negotiating a salary increase. In fact, predictors of success have little to do with academic achievement, but more to do with perseverance, relationship development, cognitive flexibility, motivation, and a good attitude. So what should our students do to prep for the world of work?

  • Volunteer, do community service, hold small jobs, job shadow and participate in as many internships as possible.
  • Build a portfolio of all their work and special interests.
  • Experience the actual work environment of the field of study they are interested in (some professional schools are starting to require relevant work experience as a prerequisite to admission due to the large numbers of graduates who do not pursue related careers).
  • Learn all the supporting skills necessary to hold a job (transportation training, sensory accommodations, negotiation, compromise, employee rights, etc.).
  • Learn the social thinking skills for the job site and practice with a job coach or social mentor.
  • Develop a wellness or sensory plan for handling the environmental issues on job sites and stress relief.
  • Know how to self-disclose and self-advocate at a job site.
  • Learn the executive functioning skills and have individual strategies developed for both job and residential living issues.
  • Start at an early age to learn all the life skills necessary to live separately from one’s family (cooking, shopping, menu planning, cleaning, etc.).
  • Learn to budget one’s finances and pay bills.
  • Engage in social outlets and fun activities that can be participated in easily.

These are factors that make up the glue that holds a whole life together. “The Degree” only helps one develop expertise in one area of knowledge. Neuro-typical young adults seem to learn these areas through osmosis, while students on the spectrum, though often more intelligent, struggle to get some of the very basic understandings in many of these areas. Awareness is the first step in this process. Next comes understanding the situation as well as we can. After that we must go to the third step, which is acceptance. Once a student embraces who he or she really is, then they will not be afraid to seek the help they need, to learn what they need to do and to find answers. My saying is: “the genuine evokes the genuine.” When you are your true self, you are at your very best and you attract the people, situations and circumstances into your life that support you and help you grow. “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

Michael McManmon, Ed.D., has a unique perspective as he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and grew up in a large family with several individuals on the spectrum. He founded the College Internship Program (www.cipworldwide.org) in 1984. CIP is a national post secondary program which supports young adults with Asperger’s, high functioning autism, ADHD, and other learning differences as they transition to college and careers. This article was originally posted by ASTEP at http://asperger-employment.org.

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