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Skill Building for Employment

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Transition to Adulthood

Skill Building for Employment

James Ball, EdD, BCBA-D

There are many jobs that a person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can do and do well. While your child is in the school system, many different skills are worked on:  prevocational, vocational, self-help, social, etc.  However, people with ASD tend to struggle with generalizing these skills to different environments and with new people. It is critical that all those involved in the transition of the young adult with ASD know him and work as a team on his behalf.

Building Your Team

When your child was first diagnosed, you probably surrounded yourself with key people to assist you in your decision making.  This group could be relatives, professionals, and school staff, but the one thing they all had in common was your child’s best interest.  When revisiting your team for your child as a young adult, you want to include people with expertise in employment and those who understand and can navigate the adult services system.  This is a shift from what you are used to, but it is critical to the success of your young adult’s new program.

To create the most effective job development program for your young adult, consider key qualities for team members such as:

* Effective Communicator: willing and able to say what needs to be said in a concise manner while respecting the opinions of others

* Active Listener: ability to absorb others’ thoughts and ideas without becoming defensive or argumentative

* Engaged Participant: stays the course through difficult times; maintains a “can-do” attitude; is an active participant at meetings

* Proactive Problem Solver: ability to openly discuss problems and offer action-oriented ideas to overcome any obstacle; focused on solutions rather than fault-finding

* Person Who Shows Commitment to Team: ability to stay focused on the reason the team was created: the success of the young adult with ASD

Building Skill Levels

Once the team is established, you must look at the skill development of the young adult and what types of work would be good matches for him, based on likes, dislikes, and aptitude.

Through more than 25 years of working with children and adults with ASD, it has been my experience that the skills of the actual job are not the issue.  The skills of the job are the easy part; it is all the other aspects of employment that are the issue.  Employers have told me that the person with ASD working for them is always on time (if not early), is never out, has to be told to take vacation, and takes his job very seriously.  It is all the “other” things that adults with ASD struggle with that lead to issues on the job.  Usually these can be categorized into one of three areas: sensory, communication, and social/behavioral needs.  Let’s explore each area and how it relates to successful job placement.

Sensory Needs

Many people with ASD, even in young adulthood, suffer from sensory issues.  Noise, smells, lighting, colors, temperature, and spatial issues—just to name a few—can overwhelm them, causing them to shut down or become overstimulated.  These are considerations that we tend to overlook or write off. However, the right environment is critical for success.  The individual must be comfortable in his “space,” right from the beginning, or the job placement could be in jeopardy. The following guidelines should be followed to address sensory needs:

* Ask the person (if appropriate).  Know what his triggers are when it comes to sensory issues. Pick the right environment to ensure success.

* Let the individual visit to experience the placement.  See if modifications can be made based on that visit.

Communication Needs

All individuals with ASD have communication deficits (e.g., verbal, understanding nonverbal cues).  They are not always able to communicate their needs and wants in an effective manner, given the circumstances they’re exposed to in the environment. For example, the individual may want to say hello to a coworker and instead of saying it, he walks up to that person and just stands by him or her. Keep in mind the following to support the individual’s communication needs:

* Consider the most appropriate job placement, based on how the individual with ASD needs to communicate in that setting.

* Know the individual’s communication system and how to help him express needs and wants. Educating everyone that will come into contact with the individual with ASD about his method of communication is always helpful.

Social/Behavioral Needs

It’s not always what you know that keeps you in a job; it’s how you get along with others.  We can teach most people the job (unless it is a special talent), but if the job match was done correctly, that should not be an issue.  However, how you interact with peers and superiors dictates your longevity. This is probably the most important aspect that needs to be explored prior to employment. Use these tips to attend to social needs:

* Knowing when to use the restroom, take a break or lunch—as opposed to finishing a job—all come from watching others in the environment and seeing how they do it. Ever heard someone tell you, “I will show you the ropes”?  It means, this is how we do it around here. This is an area that most individuals with ASD will not get, so we need to make sure as part of the assessment phase for placement, we know what this is and assist the individual in making it work for him.

* Help the person with ASD socialize appropriately for the job setting.

Self-determination is by far the most important part of any effective job placement.  It is the responsibility of the person with ASD, in conjunction with his team, to make the best possible choice. To the degree that the individual can determine his needs and wants, those should be considered. At times the individual’s own vision of what he can do may not fit his skill level, but all possibilities need to be explored prior to dismissing his “dream.” Giving the individual with ASD the best possible chance at success starts with choosing the right job environment and an excellent team.



James Ball, EdD, BCBA-D, has been working in the field of autism for 20+ years helping children, teens, and adults with ASD. Learn more about Jim’s services on his website.


Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print is prohibited without written permission of publisher.


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