Teens With Autism: Looking at Strengths for Employment
Consider your child's interests and strengths for employment opportunities.
Posted Aug 02, 2016
It is important to consider what your child or student likes or is passionate (ie obsessed) about and figure out how that can help him earn money. In most cases, people on the spectrum can be difficult to motivate – unless it involves something they are really into. For some, it is quite obvious what they are particularly interested in because they don’t let you forget. The trick is to figure out how to use that interest and turn it into a moneymaker, or to find a career field that can use that particular interest or talent. That’s where mentors come into play (more about that in the next post).
For most on the spectrum, a job will be their one connection to the community, and their main activity. If a neurotypical hates his job, he usually has another aspect of his life that is bringing him pleasure – his family, his church, athletic activities. However, most on the spectrum do not have family or friends or many outside groups they belong to, so it is important to help them find work that will fulfill them in some way, and help them to connect to others with the same interest.
There are those for whom it is fairly obvious what they are passionate about. For many like my son, Jeremy, it may be much less obvious. Until recently, there didn't seem to be anything he was particularly obsessed about that could lead to employment. He used to love to spin tops (physics researcher?), and to follow the patterns in carpets and floor tiles (carpet checker in a rug factory?), When he was in high school and transition program he was mostly focused on communicating about girls with his support people (beauty contest judge?). However, by having different people work with him or observe him in different environments, we were able to come up with ideas to try out, and jobs to avoid when he was in the transition program.
When thinking about Jeremy’s future money- making potential (either in a job, customized employment, or self-employment), we thought about the different strengths and weaknesses Jeremy had. The questions we asked ourselves are the same that most people should consider when helping someone on the spectrum who is considering employment. For example, we asked:
- What is Jeremy usually drawn to?
- Is there a particular subject area or skill area that Jeremy excels in?
- What, if left to his own devices, does he like to do most?
- What motivates Jeremy to do what he does?
- How successful is Jeremy at self-regulating?
- Does he need to work in a place with low sensory stimulation?
- What kind of situations cause Jeremy to feel anxious?
- What do Jeremy’s organizational or multitasking skills look like?
- Does Jeremy do better in crowded environments or when there are fewer people around?
- Does Jeremy like moving around, or staying in the same place?
- How many hours a week of work can Jeremy handle? Will he be able to tolerate a 40 hour a week job, or does he need a part time job?
- Does Jeremy like routine and the stability of doing the same thing every day, or does he like change?
Jeremy was interested in the concept of self-employment and did well in two self-employment experiences he tried in high school. He had a lot more control over his environment and what his daily tasks consisted of then he would have had in a regular employment situation. However, if he were to apply for a job, there are many questions he would need to learn to ask a prospective employer (or someone would have to ask for him) during the interview process to ensure a good fit between himself and the job as well as the work environment.
More recently at age 23, Jeremy discovered painting. One day, he shared with us via his letterboard that he had dreams he was painting color portraits of people he knew. Jeremy asked if he could learn how to paint, and so he began to try to paint. Now, he is pursuing painting as a way of earning money, as well as expressing himself. All indications are that he will be successful.