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Jobs for Kids that Teach Work Skills

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By Temple Grandin
Autism Asperger’s Digest
| May/June 2011

I have been observing too many smart kids on the spectrum who have absolutely no work skills or work experience. They have never learned how to do tasks for other people outside the family. When I was a teenager, I was doing very poorly in school but I was doing lots of work and learning valuable skills. At age 13, mother made arrangements for me to work two afternoons a week during the summer, hemming dresses for a dressmaker who worked from her home. At age 15, I was taking care of nine horses and cleaning their stalls every day. I also built the gate that could be opened from a car that was shown in the HBO movie.

Today I am seeing smart Aspies graduating from college and yet they have never held any kind of job. They haven’t learned on-the-job skills that will help them be successful in the workplace. Work experience needs to start long before a student graduates from college, and there are many kinds of jobs that middle school kids can do for neighbors or local businesses to gain valuable experience.

  1. Dog Walking. A middle school child can have several dog clients in the neighborhood. The dogs have to be walked every day, whether it is rain or shine.
  2. Fixing Computer Problems. Be the neighborhood computer “guy” or “gal” who comes and fixes computer crashes, installs new software and provides weekly or monthly virus updates. This business can turn into a good freelance career.
  3. Sell Handcrafts and Art on E-Bay or on Your Own Webpage. Many middle and high school students on the spectrum can create professional level art. This work needs to be sold outside the autism community.
  4. Do Graphic Design for Local Businesses. Create stationery and advertisements for local businesses. This will teach a child how to create things to other people’s specifications. Parents can help find clients through friends and neighbors. They could also do web design for a few local businesses.
  5. Write Articles for a Church Newsletter or Neighborhood Association. This job would be especially suited for the child who is good at writing and is a word thinker. It will teach the skill of producing writing that fulfills someone else’s needs.
  6. Start Learning About a Parent’s Profession. Obviously a 13-year-old cannot work in a factory, but many jobs can be taught to children such as accounting, banking, computer programming, writing, and statistics. Many successful people inSilicon Valley and other centers of technical innovation learned their jobs from their parents when they were in middle or high school. Any job where a parent has home access to their company’s computer network can be taught to a teenager. Going on the corporate network is a very grown-up privilege. When I was allowed to do grown up activities, such as dining in a fancy restaurant or using my aunt’s professional oil paints, I never misbehaved. I rose to the occasion. High expectations coupled with concrete teaching results in success in adult life.
  7. Help with Farm Chores. This is a good opportunity for kids in rural areas. Obviously for safety reasons, kids should not be operating heavy equipment on other people’s farms but there are lots of safe shores. Some examples are: feeding baby calves on a dairy, detasseling corn in theMidwest, working in a vegetable garden, or helping the family that raises chickens or pigs.
  8. Assist a Neighbor Who has a Home-Based Business. This would be similar to the job I did for the dressmaker. Many clerical tasks can be easily handled by spectrum teens and young adults.
  9. Work Retail. Older teenagers can work many retail jobs, such as at a video store, and they would be valued for their knowledge of the merchandise.

Learning how to work outside the home is important. Teaching these skills to a spectrum person, and facilitating opportunities for hands-on work experience, is vital in preparing a teenager for the transition to the world of full-time work. It also provides information that can be put into a portfolio to help a child sell him or herself to employers when he gets older. Every design job I sold, I convinced the client that I was the right person to do the job by showing him photos, drawings, and articles I had created. Since I was weird, I had to sell my work and not myself. In this article, I have emphasized starting in middle school, but it is never too late to start. A person with autism can always keep learning. To get them going, they need dedicated parents or a mentor who will push them to do new things.

Temple Grandin is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted high-functioning person with autism in the world today. Visit her website.

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2011. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print means prohibited without written permission of publisher.

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