Navigating the System
“Where will my child end up when I’m gone?” “How do I prepare my child to live an independent life?” “Can my child live a full and happy life on his own terms, with meaningful employment, and a wife and kids?”
When I first began working with the autism population as a behavior interventionist, my clients ranged in age from 2-22, and regardless of the age of my client, the future was a common worry amongst their parents. In a quest to alleviate their concerns, I have launched Spectrum Success LLC, to help individuals on the autism spectrum gain meaningful employment opportunities with competitive salaries.
Too often those with High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) fall through the cracks of the funding system and do not get the services they need and deserve. Their parents are left wondering why they cannot attain a job, or keep one long-term. After all, they did well in school and often times their IQs are the same, if not higher, than the average student.
Often the problem is a difficulty in learning “soft skills,” which are usually not taught in the school setting. Soft skills refer to things such as interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, situational awareness, adaptability, and essentially being able to conduct yourself in situations in which there are no clear cut rules, making it difficult to know what to expect from the situation in advance.
Hard skills on the other hand are taught in school every day in the form of math class, chemistry class, and physics class, just to name a few. These subjects have clear cut rules that remain constant, regardless of who you are working with and where. Soft skills require emotional intelligence while hard skills require high intellectual functioning and logic. Many individuals who have HFA and AS tend to pursue jobs that they are naturally good at, that require hard skills rather than soft skills. Some examples of careers that many with HFA and AS tend to thrive in are: accounting, drafting and enforcement of procedures and policies, computer programming and system administration, archive and record keeping activities, warehousing and library functions.
It is the lack of soft skills that often hinders these employees from fitting into an office environment, and ultimately from being able to maintain a job. That does not mean that these students can’t hold a job other than the ones listed above; it just means that they may need a little extra guidance to learn the soft skills needed to thrive in a work place setting.
Unfortunately, when it comes to students with HFA and AS, their skills and abilities may overshadow their need for support. To top it all off, funding for many individuals with disabilities ends at the age of 22. The Department of Rehabilitation does have Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services throughout the country, which are meant to help adults gain job experience and eventually a job. Unfortunately, with funding cuts happening constantly, vocational and job support services tend to go to the individuals with the “most significant disabilities.” In order to have a better chance of obtaining services, document the following things, beginning as early as when your child begins high school:
How your child’s disability limits him or her in six general areas of functioning: communication, mobility, interpersonal skills, self-care, work tolerance, and work skills
How the disability creates a substantial barrier to employment
Why there is a need for VR services to obtain or maintain employment
Explain how and why your child’s characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can prevent employment without support
Documentation should also highlight your child’s strengths to show that he or she can be successful in the workplace with their support, and which environments he or she will be most successful in
Referrals can be made as early as the age of 14, and it is recommended you contact your VR by the age of 16
Unlike hard skills, which are taught in the classroom, soft skills require trial and error and take a lot more time to learn. Parents can begin early and support the development of employability skills by teaching life skills within the home setting by:
Assigning household chores
Incorporating following instructions into family routines
Using visual supports (instead of verbal instruction) to increase independence
Providing incentives for work completion (after all, how many of us would continue working if we stopped receiving our paychecks?)
Reinforcing attempts at grooming and hygiene
Teaching how to shop, how to make change or use a credit/debit card
Explaining the difference in interactions between employer to employee, friend to friend, and coworker to coworker
Allowing your child to pick out their own clothing for different occasions (school versus formal occasions versus hanging out with friends)
Spectrum Success uses a variety of assessments to take an individual’s strengths and interests into account, in order to help them find a career, not just a job. Spectrum Success has partnered with a local business in Chino, CA: Health Plus Inc. At this work site our clients will get the opportunity to shadow employees in different departments, and practice the soft skills that they are learning during our program. Our clients will get elite training in social and communication skills needed to thrive in the workplace, and personal skills needed to support an independent life style. We are also working with businesses in our communities to educate them on the many benefits of hiring individuals on the autism spectrum, which include: access to employees who are trustworthy, reliable, have low absenteeism, pay high attention to detail, are accurate with repetitive tasks, have strong memory and recall, have low turnover rates, and thrive at tasks that others may find as socially isolated. Due to the lack of funding for individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism, Spectrum Success is also creating an online curriculum that will allow adults to watch videos that will teach them how to choose a job, prepare to obtain the job, and the skills needed to maintain that job. This online program will create a unique platform in which services are affordable and accessible to thousands of young adults all over the world. When we work together as a community, I am confident that we can ensure the opportunity of meaningful employment for everyone. For more information about our online program, please contact Sneha K. Mathur at SpectrumSuccess.firstname.lastname@example.org
OCALI: Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence. Transition to Adulthood, second edition, Guidelines for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder written and edited by Chris Filler & Madeline Rosenshein, 2012. Retrieved on 11/28/15.
Meyer, R.N. (2001). Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook. London and Philadelphia. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Mesibov, G., Thomas J.B., Chapman, S.M., & Schopler, E. (2007). TEACCH Transition Assessment Profile, Second Edition. Austin, Texas. Pro-Ed Inc.