Young people with autism holding down successful workj

How do we help a person with ASD be successfully employed?

Redefine success in terms of practical life skills

In order to help a person with ASD be successful in employment, we first have to ask ourselves the following question, “what does competent adulthood mean?” We all know what we learned in high school was not necessarily what helped us be successful in the workforce.  In school, success is defined by how well you do in subjects like Math, English, Social Studies etc…As parents of kids with autism, we often hear about how the education system is”…allowing our student to reach their highest potential.” But highest potential in what area exactly? In math? Is that going to help someone with ASD be able to achieve the daily living skills they might need to independently hold down a job? Peter Gerhardt from the Organization for Autism Research says this kind of benchmarking leads to poor outcomes for students with autism. For those with ASD, mastering life skills like personal hygiene and self-care (taking medicine, bandaging a cut), housekeeping, food preparation, and getting around the community might be the skills we should be trying to help our kids with ASD achieve.

What is employment really about?

  1. Employment is about the job task.
  2. Drop the terms job placement, pre-vocational, vocational and job site. These are all terms used in the disability world. Call it employment as that’s what the goal is.
  3. Everyone is capable of being employed.

What are the 5 unacceptable behaviours for a workplace?

When preparing a person for the workforce, understand that you will never get anyone in the workplace or the community to accept the following:

  1. Extreme aggression
  2. Poor mealtime skills
  3. Inappropriate sexual behavior
  4. Inappropriate bathroom skills (ex. masturbation)
  5. Age inappropriate clothing or poor hygiene.

These 5 unacceptable behaviours need to provide the framework for skills to work on. There are many resources available to tackle these 5 areas of need. Have a look in our Life Skills section of our bookstore to see a list. Develop good habits at a young age. My children have known for years that they can’t leave the house without their hair brushed, faces washed, and clean clothes on. That is an expectation before leaving the house for any reason.

Job development is also a process. Provide opportunities to sample jobs. These can be short term work placements or volunteer positions. For example, my son volunteers at the local Farmer’s Market over the summer once a week for a 3 hour shift doing odd jobs. He earns points for his tasks that he can then cash in for things that he wants. He knows he has to earn more points for an expensive item, less for a DVD. Money itself is not a motivator, but understanding what it can do for you is. Being employed means access to other things that one enjoys or is interested in such as music, books, recreational activities, tickets etc.

Teach that not everything in life is interesting and it’s OK to have boring moments or have to do unenjoyable tasks. In school, we encourage students to use their special interests to keep motivation levels high, but in the world of work we all have to do tasks that don’t interest us. Help the person realize this is part of a job but not the whole job. Keep the eye on the prize – what employment can do for them.

Meet with potential employers and let then know the advantages of hiring a person with ASD

Ask the employer:

  1. Do you have staff that arrives late?
  2. Staff that takes longer breaks than allotted?
  3. People who don’t show up for work?
  4. People who quit after a short period of time?

Disabled people save an employer money because they will stick with a job, follow the rules when they know what they are, and they tend not to move away from an area where they’ve settled. They like stability and predictability.

When assessing a job, look at the job environment, check that the work is challenging and do-able for the person’s abilities, and check if the social skills are a good match for the position. Will there be time for employee social interaction? Also assess safety skills both in the job and getting to the job. Can this person get to work independently on public transportation? Can they work around equipment such as hot stoves or machinery?

Build connections in the community

Parents can build connections within the community through the activities your child likes to do. If the child likes animals, see if you can volunteer at the SPCA, zoo or help out at a local farm or horse stable. Volunteer yourself at organizations to see if there is a potential job that could stem from the membership or organization. Volunteering at the Farmer’s Market has been a good way to get to know local vendors that may need help.

For further reading on employment and skills needed, have a look at:

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2 Comments Moderation Policy

  1. traceyhilliard says:

    I was introduced to your website and writings today for the first time through my son’s school autism consultant in Cape Breton, NS.  I have read only 2 blog posts but had to comment.  My son is graduating from high school next month and this post is now our life.  Over 2 years he has gained skills by volunteering at a local wildlife park (his interests center around animals and nature) for over 2,500 hours now.  Last summer he was employed for 8 weeks and hopes to again this year.  He has learned valuable skills while volunteering and the park employees have been instrumental in making that happen.  This post hit home.  Thanks for it 🙂

  2. My practice initially began by focusing on families with children who have special needs or challenges; more particularly, those within the autism spectrum.  Suffice to say that the complexities of the disability are, fundamentally, misunderstood by the community at large.  In fact, it could be argued that perceptions become even more blurred when considering high functioning adults on the spectrum. These cognitively capable individuals struggle with challenges in social communication, sensory issues, rigid thinking, and anxiety that, far too often, is either misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, depression, suicide ideation, and anger management issues to name a few or simply left undiagnosed. [Note: Cognitively capable is defined as IQ’s above 70 up to highly gifted.]  Consequently, these individuals tend to struggle unnecessarily shrouded in diagnostic and perceptional inaccuracies.  Case in point.  In the United States, 46 per cent of the children curently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder have average to above average IQ, suggesting that the diagnosis is now being made in more high-functioning children. In recent Canadian and U.S. studies, there is evidence to suggest that children from lower economic groups and regions have lower rates of diagnosis, which highlights two explanations: diagnostic awareness is lacking in front line personnel and caregivers, and/or, the agencies responsible for services are fewer, therefore, reaching fewer.

    I have proposed to the FCSS for funding to provide the following initiative to address this issue but I would also like to be able to reach as many people as possible who may be exposed to this population without the knowledge required to ensure this individuals lives are not severely impacted.

    The following is my proposal:

    1.To improve diagnostic awareness of Austic Spectrum Disorder through mobile education and consultation to front line personnel dealing with high functioning adolescents and adults on the spectrum.
    2. To establish a subsidized pilot community resource/counselling centre specializing in treatment services to cognitively capable ASD adults and their families.

    If you have any ideas in how to reach people who would be interest in the proposal, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and input.  Thank you

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