Teaching Employment Skills to Adults with Autism
Many methods and techniques have been used in teaching and developing job skills for an autistic adult. Parents and teachers, though, should think about employment for individuals with autism long before they reach adulthood. Students should be paired with mentors who can help them explore career interests and help others discover possibilities for students. Mentors can provide students with insight into how to dress properly for work as well as how to speak to and interact with both supervisors and coworkers. Finding appropriate mentors will require parents and teachers to search through local service organizations, trade associations, places of worship, or through companies specializing in a chosen field. Professionals are usually more than happy to share their expertise and should be willing to offer guidance on an ongoing basis.
While still in school, students should take advantage of internships and volunteer opportunities. These experiences, in fact, should be part of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in transitioning from school to work and in acquiring job skills. Internships and volunteer opportunities allow students to explore jobs, develop a professional network, increase social skills and practice work-related activities. Part of these activities should include using public transportation. If buses are uncomfortable due to sensory or social issues, a bicycle, car or car pool may be necessary. Back-up transportation should also be devised and practiced to avoid a new and stressful event.
Job coaches have frequently been used to teach specific workplace tasks to individuals with autism. Coaches should be careful, however, how they teach and demonstrate skills specifically for an autistic adult. Since these individuals prefer routine and often build a set of expectations quickly, job coaches should avoid becoming embedded in an employee’s routine. Non-verbal prompts, visual prompts and modeling should be used instead of verbal prompts in teaching tasks to make coaching less likely to embed in routine and easier to fade when the coach leaves. The use of natural supports, with on-site training staff and coworkers to answer questions and provide appropriate assistance, should be developed to further develop job skills.
As with all employees, individuals with autism should continue to develop workplace skills with guidance and practice. In fact, the skills people with autism have been taught and have acquired throughout intervention and school should be generalized into work settings. Employment can offer opportunities to increase self-awareness, self-regulation, independence, communication and social skills.