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The Way I See It: Kids Must Learn Work Skills

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Temple Grandin article


At almost every autism conference, I have either a parent or a teacher ask, “He is 21, how do I get him to stop playing video games in the basement?” or they say “He is 18 and is in the bedroom for six hours a day playing games.” Many of these game addicts are not having good outcomes; consequently, too many are ending up on Social Security and continue to play games all day.

In my generation, most kids in middle school had paper routes or other jobs. The geeks and nerds I went to school and college with (who would be labeled ASD today) all got jobs and some even own businesses! Therefore, individuals who are completely verbal and capable of doing normal school work in most subjects can and should work.

Paper Route Substitutes

Learning work skills needs to start in middle school. When I was thirteen, mother arranged a job for me doing hand-sewing for a freelance seamstress. When I was fifteen, I cleaned eight horse stalls every day and took care of the horses. There is discipline and responsibility involved in having a job. In fact, I was proud that I was in charge of the horse barn.

Many parents may say, “But there are no paper routes today!” That might be true, but there are lots of ways to find paper route substitutes. Parents and teachers need to create jobs for middle and high school kids in the neighborhood. Here are a few things to keep in mind when teaching kids and young adults work skills:

  •     The job should be outside the child’s home. Working away from home can promote independence and responsibility.
  •     Volunteer jobs or jobs paid in cash work well for those under 16; however, as soon as the child turns 16, he should get a job in the regular economy.

Jobs for Younger Kids:

  •     Walking dogs for the neighbors
  •     Setting up chairs at a church or community center
  •     Assisting vendors in a farmer’s market
  •     Fixing computers and running virus scans for local people
  •     Helping an independent business with office duties, like filing or answering phones
  •     Volunteering as a tour guide at a museum or local historical site
  •      Ushering at church

Regular paid part-time jobs, such as a grocery store clerk, stock person or a file clerk will teach kids 16 and older the discipline of a job. If you have vocational/technical schools in your area, enroll your young adult in classes that will lead to an internship or apprenticeship. When I was in college, I did career relevant internships. One summer I worked in a research lab and another I worked with severely autistic children. I continued to go to my aunt’s ranch where I took guests on horseback rides and waited on tables.

These kids must be stretched outside their comfort zone! Teach them the skills needed to have a job, and to simply enjoy life experiences. Just last Christmas, I took my first solo ride on the New York subway. Even I have to be willing to do new things on my own.


Temple Grandin, PhD, is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted highly functioning person with autism in the world today. For more information, visit her at www.templegrandin.com.






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