"Jeremy does not like jobs with physical activities but likes to work with ideas and be able to tell others what to do.... As the case manager, I see Jeremy's strong assets like working data, communicating with people to purchase/buy/manage a business. He is able to do gross motor activities, but often finds fine motor activities difficult and frustrating. Jeremy needs more opportunities exploring jobs and finding out what he would do to have fun and earn money. These last two ideas are very important to Jeremy."
The above was part of information given to us by one of Jerey's favorite teachers during an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting a few years back.
Jeremy is older now, but like all parents my husband and I worry about what his future will look like. Jeremy is now 22 years old, and with the economic situation being what it is, we are doubly concerned about the financial aspects of Jeremy's life as an adult. But as the saying goes, worry gets you nowhere - fast. Preparing, planning and creative thinking is a better alternative to wringing our hands.
When thinking about employment for your child or student on the spectrum, there are a few aspects that need to be focused on: the life skills he or she needs to learn; a clear understanding of what employers look for in an employee; the interests and strengths of the person on the spectrum; the usefulness of mentors; and the different employment structures currently available. In this post, I'll be discussing necessary life skills and what employers look for.
Necessary Life Skills
In my book, Autism Life Skills : From Communication and Safety to Self-Esteem and More - 10 Essential Abilities Every Child Needs and Deserves to Learn, the ten skill areas covered are important for all aspects of life, whether at work, at school, at home, or in the community. Some of the skills such as self-regulation, independence, social relationships, and self-advocacy are important for getting and keeping a job. The topic of earning a living is the last chapter in my book, because being able to get and hold a job is really a culmination of all the life skills hopefully learned during the school -age years, whether a person is on or off the spectrum. For example, for someone to be accepted in a workplace, he must be able to control his emotional and sensory meltdowns. A certain amount of independence is needed at most jobs. Understanding that you should speak to your boss differently than you would to a colleague is important to know in most work situations. Self advocacy skills are necessary in order to request what you need to get the job done.
Life skills in general should be broken down and translated into IEP goals and objectives, especially during middle school, high school and transition years. Obviously, everyone is different and the skill level reached for each of these skills is different depending on the person, but every student needs to learn a minimum in order to live and work in the community.
What Employers Look for When Hiring
Too often, when looking for a job placement for a person on the spectrum, people take the approach of asking for handout, or a favor. We need to approach this differently. I took a look at the top 10 skills and attributes most employers look for as identified by the Bureau of Labor (Job Outlook, 2003) and I discovered that many of those attributes are attributes people on the spectrum have, yet rarely do we sell those attributes to prospective employers. Here's the top ten of what employers look for: honesty and integrity; a strong work ethic; analytical skills; computer skills; teamwork; time management and organizational skills; communication skills (oral and written); flexibility; interpersonal skills; motivation / initiative.
Now, many of you reading this are probably focusing on the skills in this list your child or student does not have. Look at it again, and think about what attributes your child does have. For example, most people on the spectrum are honest to a fault - they are usually the ones in the store saying "yes" when a woman trying on a dress says "Does this make me look fat?" They are not the employees who will be caught with thier hands in the cash tills. That's a positive point to sell. A strong work ethic applies to most of our guys - the ones who do not like a change in routine and are going to be there rain or shine. They will not be calling in sick because they had one too many martinis the night before, or leave early because they have an event to attend. Analytical skills are really ‘obsessive attention to detail,' and many of our children have that. The child who likes to line up blocks and trains probably has good organizational skills. Teamwork and flexibility are difficult areas for many, but we should be teaching flexibility at school (there are ways of doing that), and teamwork can be handled by ensuring the person on the spectrum has one person on the team that he is in contact with for all needed information. Many of our children with Asperger's are good communicators, and some have become journalists, speechwriters and professors.
The point is, when people are selling a product and/ or service, they market the positive attributes, not the negatives. And that's precisely what we need to be doing with any prospective employee on the spectrum.
In my next post, I'll discuss the interests and strengths of the person on the spectrum, and the usefulness of mentors.