Making a Successful Transition into the World of Work
by Temple Grandin, PhD
Moving from one activity to another can be difficult for individuals on the autism spectrum. Both parents and teachers must be ready for a successful transition when a student ages out of the education system. You must be ready for this transition long before it happens. I am observing too many situations where parents or caretakers overprotect, and it makes it very difficult for the individual with autism to learn new skills. One of the most common mistakes is when a parent speaks for the child instead of waiting for him/her to respond.
My mother was always stretching me to do new things. I was always given choices but I was never allowed to retreat from life. When I was afraid to visit my aunt’s ranch, she gave me a choice. I could go for a week and come back or, if I liked it, I could stay all summer. When I got out to the ranch, I loved it and stayed all summer. Going to my aunt’s ranch opened the door for a career in the cattle industry.
The biggest barrier which prevents fully verbal individuals from fulfilling their potential is a lack of work skills. Work skills SHOULD be learned BEFORE a student graduates from either high school or college. When I was getting my master’s degree at Arizona State, I had already started a gradual transition away from the world of school to the world of work. During this time, I had a part-time job with our state farm magazine, and I was doing freelance sign painting.
Younger kids should start learning working skills in middle school. They need a job outside the home that is on a regular schedule. Volunteer work counts but it must be outside the home so that the child learns how to take direction from other people. Some easy-to-set-up jobs would be walking dogs for a neighbor or jobs in a place of worship. Being an usher or helping with setting up chairs for events would be ideal. As soon as the child is the legal age of 14, 15, or 16 (depending on the state), he/she needs to get a job in the regular economy. Parents and teachers should use their contacts in the neighborhood to find managers who would be willing to work with their child. Jobs that avoid lots of multi-tasking are often best. Bagging groceries or working in a movie theater often works well. As the child develops, he/she should move on to more challenging jobs.
My Job History in High School and College
- Age 13: Hand sewing for a freelance seamstress.
- Age 16 to 18: Cleaned horse stalls and worked on my aunt’s ranch.
- In college: Summer internship at a research lab, and I had to rent a house with a new roommate. This was set up through personal contacts at my college. The internship was volunteer, but I worked five days a week.
Transitions are worse when they are sudden. My transition from the world of school to the world of work was long and gradual.
Temple is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted high-functioning person with autism in the world today.