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Supporting Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Quality Employment Practices

The Institute Brief, Issue No. 25

Originally published: 12/2008

THE ICI PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT SERIES December 2008

By Alan Kurtz and Melanie Jordan

“If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”

—Stephen Shore

Introduction

It has been known for decades that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including those with significant impairment or who have behaviors that others find challenging, can work when they are given appropriate supports (Smith, Belcher, & Juhrs, 1995). It is also clear that individuals with ASD can benefit from employment. Benefits include improved emotional state, greater financial gain, decreased anxiety, greater self-esteem, and greater independence (Mawhood & Howlin, 1999; Hurlbutt & Chalmers, 2004). Nonetheless, employment outcomes for individuals with ASD have traditionally been poor (Bilstedt, Gilberg, & Gilberg, 2005; Howlin, Goode, Hutton, & Rutter, 2004). Even those who do find work are often underemployed or do not hold onto jobs for a long period of time (Mawhood & Howlin, 1999). 

It is a mistake to assume that these historically poor employment outcomes for individuals with ASD mean that most cannot work. People with ASD can work when employment staff help them find the right job match and when appropriate and individualized supports are built in. It is important to recognize that each person with ASD is unique. Even those who share a common specific diagnosis (such as Asperger syndrome, autism, or PDD-NOS) differ dramatically from one another in their skills, interests, motivation, ability to communicate, behavior, and social ability. In itself, the knowledge that an individual has an ASD diagnosis is of little use to a professional helping the person find and keep a satisfying job. Instead, the employment specialist must develop a thorough understanding of the individual’s unique characteristics, learning style, strengths, and, most importantly, interests (Duffy, Opperman, Smith, & Shore, 2007).  

What are autism spectrum disorders, or ASD?

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders include autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
  • According to the American Psychiatric Association (1994) the core features of autism are:
  • Difficulty with social interaction;
  • Impairments in verbal and non-verbal communication; and
  • Restricted, repetitive, and stereotypical patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities.
  • In addition to the core features above many people across the autism spectrum may:
  • Have difficulty processing and modulating sensory information,
  • Have difficulty planning goal directed movements , and
  • Experience high levels of anxiety.

Achieving a Good Job Match: Considerations For Placement Planning and Assessment

  • The most important consideration in helping an individual with ASD find a job is the job match.  When helping a person with ASD find a good job match, three broad areas must be considered:
  • The interests and skills of the person with ASD; 
  • The individual with ASD’s learning style; and 
  • The environmental demands on the worker with ASD—including communication, sensory, social, and organizational.

It is imperative to match the job to the unique set of strengths, interests, and passions that the person with ASD brings to the situation. 

  • Jay loves to travel in vehicles and would spend most of his day in a car if he could. His team is trying either to carve out a delivery position for him with an existing company or help him start his own delivery business. 
  • Alicia is very interested in women’s and baby clothes. She works in a department store re-shelving and re-hanging clothes left in the changing rooms. Alicia hangs the clothes according to size using the color codes on the tags. 
  • Henn and Henn (2005) describe their daughter with autism as being very limited in her communication and as having a history of challenging behavior. However, she also is very meticulous and detailed oriented. She is extremely efficient in her work shelving books in a library. 
  • As a child, Dr. Temple Grandin became obsessed with cattle handling equipment at her aunt’s ranch. She was encouraged to pursue her interests and went on to become one of the world’s leading experts on the design of cattle handling facilities.

It is not essential that a job initially be a perfect match with the person’s skills. For example, a person with ASD might find a job (s)he is interested in but not have all the necessary skills to perform the job independently. Persons with ASD can learn new skills throughout their lives. Additionally, the skills that a person can independently demonstrate currently tells us little about what that person can do with appropriate supports. The discrepancies between the demands of the job and the person’s existing skills must be assessed so that those discrepancies might be reduced through teaching or accommodation. Assessment needs to be a dynamic process that looks at how a person performs in response to various supports over time.

An important aspect of determining appropriate supports is assessing the individual with ASD’s learning style. For example, many—but not all—individuals with ASD are visual learners and respond well to visual prompts. Many do well with picture or written cues. Others may respond well to a combination of visual and verbal prompts. Asking a person with ASD to imitate a task performed by a co-worker may be the best strategy in some cases. Another common strategy is to provide the employee with an example of a completed product. Often parents, family members, former teachers and others who know a person well have a good understanding of a person’s learning style.

It is also important to assess the work environment to determine the match between the communication, sensory, social, and organizational demands of the job and the needs of the individual with ASD. Again, the match between the demands of the environment and the needs of the individual does not have to be perfect. It is possible to introduce accommodations and instruction that will help create a better fit between the employee with ASD and the environment. 

After some potentially good job matches for an individual with ASD, based on his or her unique skills and interests, have been identified, it is important to examine in more detail the communication, sensory, social, and organizational demands of the job. In each of these four categories, the following sections will address: 

  • possible issues that could interfere with success, 
  • the match between the work environment and the person’s needs, and 
  • possible supports and accommodations.

What Should Be Assessed?

  • Interests and strengths (often assessed through person-centered planning)
  • Specific work skills
  • Learning style 
  • Communication skills and required supports, including need for augmentative or alternative communication (AAC)
  • Social interaction and behavior and effective supports
  • Sensory issues—need for certain sensory inputs to relax or need to avoid certain stimuli
  • Need for structure and predictability and effective supports for the individual
  • The physical and social environment of a potential workplace

Who Can Help?

  • The individual with ASD
  • Family members or friends who know the person well
  • Former teachers
  • Residential support staff
  • Occupational Therapists (OT) and Physical Therapists (PT), especially regarding motor and sensory considerations
  • Speech therapists, for communication assessement or to help design AAC
  • Potential employers or co-workers

Communication Demands

Almost all working people must communicate with others—co-workers, supervisors, and customers—at some time. There may be topics related to specific aspects of the job that the person needs to communicate. This can be difficult for persons with ASD. As many as 50% of persons with autism never develop functional speech (Lord and Paul, 1997). Moreover, a great deal of social communication occurs on a job site. Even persons with ASD who do develop speech may have difficulty with the social aspects of language (Prizant, Wetherby, & Schuler, 2000). Many have difficulty understanding the meaning of what others are saying – both through their spoken words and their expressions and body language. Some may get stuck on a particular topic or not know when it is appropriate to stop, start, or interrupt. The inability to communicate effectively can make it difficult for a person with ASD to fit in.

Employment specialists can help individuals with ASD find jobs that are a good match for their communication skills or style of communication. 

  • Joseph can talk about music trivia for hours. Knowing that some people would find this irritating, Joseph’s employment specialist worked hard to find a position for him where the supervisor shared this same passion. 
  • Lucinda communicates primarily through a limited number of manual signs and gestures. She does well at her job in which her duties remain consistent from day-to-day. She has little need to communicate with the supervisor or co-workers about job-related information. She also uses a picture schedule to help her to complete job tasks and to make transitions between settings. Her supervisor knows how to help Lucinda prepare for changes in her schedule by reviewing it with her in advance. 

In some cases, there may a big discrepancy between the communication demands of the job and the skills the person with ASD currently possesses. Instead of ruling out the job, some of the following strategies and solutions might be considered:

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Many individuals can benefit from communication systems that can be used instead of speech or to augment existing forms of communication. For example, some individuals with ASD communicate by pointing to pictures, symbols, or words. In some cases the symbols are accessed using computer screens or other devices that can produce a voice output. A well-designed AAC system allows the employee with ASD both to communicate information related to job responsibilities and participate in the social life of the workplace.
  • Scripts. Sometimes verbal or writing skills can be taught directly. This may involve the use of “scripts” that the person can use or modify in a number of different situations.
  • Translator. Sometimes a co-worker or supervisor may act as a “translator,” interpreting communication from others for the person with ASD or explaining the person’s communication to others.
  • Supports for Receptive Language. There are a number of strategies that employment specialists can teach to co-workers that will help them communicate more effectively with a person with ASD, including using verbal prompts sparingly (Olney, 2000), avoiding ambiguous statements or figurative speech, being very direct and clear in one’s communication (Hagner & Cooney, 2005), giving people plenty of time to respond (Quirk, Zeph & Uchida, 2007), and using multiple modes of communication (modeling, writing, pictures, speech, etc.).
  • Other Strategies. This is only a small sampling of strategies that might be used. Speech-language therapists can help in customizing communication supports for an individual.

    Translator Example

    • The boss says, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Keith does not understand what the boss means.
    • A co-worker explains to Keith that the boss wants his employees to look busy.

Sensory Demands 

It has become increasingly clear that most individuals with ASD experience some sensory processing differences (Leekam, Nieto, Libby, Wing & Gould, 2007). Some individuals may be hypersensitive to certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, textures, or touch. A particular noise or feeling might produce the same kind of response that fingernails on a blackboard produce in most of us. Some also may crave certain types of sensory feedback. For example, many individuals with ASD need some kind of movement (rocking or swinging) or deep pressure (from a hug or a heavy blanket) in order to remain calm and focused. 

A good sensory job match is one in which a person is not overwhelmed by stimuli (s)he cannot tolerate and one in which (s)he is getting the kind of feedback needed to stay focused on his or her job. Muller et. al (2003) contend that many individuals with ASD do well in a tranquil and calm workplace. Similarly, Quirk, Zeph, & Uchida (2007) suggest that employment specialists may need to work with the employer to create an environment free from unnecessary distracters.

Often employment specialists can help employers design some fairly simple modifications to the sensory characteristics of the workplace: 

  • Janine has a white noise machine in her workspace that blocks out distracting background noises. A white noise machine creates noise in a random manner, which may sound like a waterfall or air escaping from a balloon. 
  • Joseph’s employer allows him to take short breaks when he rocks and hums. 
  • Bill is able to work much more productively because the fluorescent tubes have been replaced by compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

Other strategies and solutions to help a person moderate sensory issues include:

  • modifying the work area by clearing up clutter or adding dividers that block out distractions,
  • moving the work station to a quieter location,
  • wearing sunglasses or other tinted glasses,
  • using head phones or ear plugs,
  • pairing visual prompts with verbal ones, and
  • encouraging slow introductions to environments that might be over-stimulating.

Websites with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices:

Low-Tech Devices

  • www.spectronicsinoz.com/product.asp?product=17625#commfolder
  • http://augresources.com/vindex.html
  • http://attainmentcompany.com/xcart/home.php?cat=278
  • High-Tech Devices

  • www.abilityhub.com/aac/aac-devices.htm
  •  HYPERLINK "http://www.aacconnections.com/" www.aacconnections.com/

AAC Example

Lucinda can communicate most job-related information through signs, gestures, and through the use of a picture schedule. She has difficulty communicating socially with co-workers, however, during lunch breaks and at other times. Her employment specialist has brought in a speech therapist who is helping to design an AAC system that will allow Lucinda to participate in lunchtime conversations. The system will have a voice output that Lucinda can access by pushing buttons with pictures on them. The initial goal is to give her a means of exchanging greetings, sharing information, and telling stories.

Social Demands 

Social difficulties are often the biggest obstacle faced by individuals with ASD in a work environment. As one person with Asperger syndrome explains, “It is not that we do not work hard, or have problems with being prompt, not being on time, or unwilling, because we are not that at all. It is that we are not very good at dealing with people in social situations” (Hurlbutt and Chalmers, 2004, p.94).

Hagner and Cooney (2005) report that good job matches for persons with ASD are often ones in which there is a great deal of tolerance for individual differences. Gilbride, Vandergloot, Golden & Stensrud (2006) have developed a survey tool that can be used to assess an employer’s openness or tolerance (see reference section). Employees with ASD also may do well in situations in which co-workers are willing to learn how to initiate interaction with them and how to provide clear and direct feedback to them about social expectations. There are some individuals who may do best in situations where a great deal of social interaction is not required. 

  • Janine, a woman with Asperger syndrome, believes that one needs to respect the right of an employee to limit his or her interaction with others. She argues that everyone has varying degrees of comfort with socializing. The expectation to be more social than is comfortable can create added stress on the job and make efforts to interact less successful. 
  • Mark Romoser (2000) describes a person with Asperger syndrome who obtained a job working at Subway. The demand to work quickly while interacting with customers was just too much. 

However, it is important to remember that individuals with ASD may often want to interact but simply have difficulty with the mechanics of social interaction. In those cases, employment staff may have to provide some customized supports. Employment staff should become familiar with the workplace culture in order to help the worker with ASD understand what is acceptable, unacceptable, and expected. Clear, straightforward, positive explanations to the worker can then be provided and facilitated on an ongoing basis by all involved. Also keep in mind that stronger workplace cultures tend to be more welcoming. Hagner’s (2000) book titled “Coffee Breaks and Birthday Cakes” can be a useful tool in analyzing workplace culture (see reference section).

There are a number of strategies and solutions that have been used to support positive social interaction at job sites. These include the use of: 

  • social stories developed by Carol Gray (see box below);
  • scripts to help engage in small talk or to respond to difficult situations;
  • video modeling of appropriate behavior (Bellini, 2006);
  • a workplace mentor to serve as social translator (Duffy, Opperman, Smith & Shore (2007);
  • adjustments based on results of a functional behavior assessment; and
  • relaxation and emotional regulation techniques such as breathing exercises, biofeedback and self-awareness training (Bellini, 2006).

Employment specialists working with individuals with ASD must also look at the bigger picture when analyzing problems.  Sometimes minor changes in routine or a change in personnel at work can be very difficult for a person to handle.

Difficulties with Workplace Social Interaction:

  • Hard time understanding and using subtle cues, inferences, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.
  • Misinterpretations or literal interpretation of ambiguous language, sarcasm, or metaphors
  • Difficulties initiating interaction, asking for help, and/or negotiating issues
  • Talking too much or too little
  • Asking too many, too few, or intrusive questions
  • Perseveration on topics that may not be of interest to others
  • Experiencing anxiety with staff turnover
  • Too honest—lack of social niceties
  • Strict adherence to rules, and reporting others when rules are broken
  • Problems with interpersonal boundaries
  • Hard to understand unwritten rules
  • Not understanding how to engage in small talk
  • Behavior that may cause others to feel uncomfortable

Social Stories™ describe situations, skills, or concepts in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Following is an example of a social story that could be used in a fast food restaurant:

I usually keep four hamburgers on the grill at work. Sometimes more customers come into the restaurant than usual. During those times I may need to put more hamburgers on the grill. My supervisor usually lets me know when I need to do this. If I need more help during those times I can ask my supervisor or one of the other employees: “Can you give me some help?” It is all right to ask for more help when I need it.

For more information, go to www.thegraycenter.org

Organizational Demands—Ensuring Adequate Structure, Routine and Predictability 

One of the most common needs among employees with ASD is to know what is going to happen and when. For many, the stress of not knowing if or when something is going to happen can cause overwhelming anxiety. Jeff, for example, quit his job when the employer changed the schedule without talking to him first. Many workers with ASD require some kind of visual organizer with pictures, video, written words, or symbols. This is true even for those who seem to have their routine or schedule memorized. 

Many individuals with ASD are visual learners. It often helps to be able to see what is expected of them. Even those who are able to tell others verbally or in writing what their schedule is often benefit from seeing it visually. 

Good job matches for individuals with ASD are often ones in which there is a high degree of structure, predictability, and routine. (Note, however, that structure and routine is not necessarily the same as boring and tedious.) A good job environment match in this case is often one in which responsibilities and schedules are spelled out in great detail. Additionally, employees are notified well in advance when there will be changes in the routine.

  • Greg had all the skills necessary to independently perform the tasks required of him in his new job cleaning guest rooms at a hotel. His job coach was surprised that after several weeks of coaching, Greg continued to need prompting to initiate most tasks. Greg had become very angry several times, after he had been prompted by the job coach to finish one task and move on to another. The job coach was worried that this could escalate into more serious behavior issues. The employment specialist worked with both of them to take digital photos of Greg performing each task. The photos were used to create a task analysis that was placed on a personal digital assistant (PDA). The PDA had software that could cue Greg with an auditory and visual reminder when it was time to end one task and move on to another. Greg simply needed to push the start button when he began cleaning a room. This allowed Greg to become much more independent. He also responded much better to the PDA cues than ones from his job coach.
  • Kathy works at a local pet store in northern Maine. She recently was suspended from her job for aggressive behavior. Despite previous problems, her employer wanted her to return because they believed she was a real asset to the business. Kathy met with the employment specialist, her mother, the supervisor, and several co-workers to discuss both her support needs and the needs of the employer. The team helped Kathy develop a daily schedule over which she had some control. Each day Kathy selected the time periods in which she would perform particular job functions such as stocking supplies and merchandise, cleaning fish tanks, or staffing the adoption center. As a result Kathy enjoyed her job more, there were no incidents of aggression or other challenging behavior, and she was more efficient. 

Employment staff can help employers provide customized supports for workers who might need extra attention around predictability and routine. As previously stated, the use of visual schedules and calendars are among supports that have been found most effective. For many people, the introduction of a concrete, visual schedule may make the difference between success and failure at a job. Other strategies and solutions include: 

  • the use of personal digital assistants (PDAs),
  • reviewing a schedule with the employee regularly,  
  • discussing changes in routine or personnel in advance, and
  • extra support during periods of transition or personnel changes. 

Employment Specialist Role in Supporting the Job

Once the job is carefully developed, employment staff need to pay close attention to ongoing details and progress. Since situations can develop and change quickly, staff need to be aware of surrounding circumstances and to be proactive in anticipating and preventing problems. Some key aspects of this role include:

  • Ensuring that training goes okay
  • Fine-tuning job supports and accommodations
  • Being available if supervisors or coworkers have a question
  • Serving as liaison between work and home—the worker with ASD may be stable at work, but something may happen at home which throws him or her off. The employer has no way to know how to interpret the worker’s anxiety or anger without some communication assistance.
  • Maximizing facilitation of natural supports and social inclusion

Visual Organizers and Schedules

  • Provide predictability
  • Can reduce anxiety
  • Should be available at all times for quick access
  • Increase independence at work

Types of Visual Schedules

  • PDAs
  • Calendars & appointment books
  • Daily schedules
  • Task sequences
  • First/Then boards (show two tasks in a work sequence in which one task must always precede the other)

Symbols Used with Visual Schedules

  • Drawings
  • Photos
  • Icons
  • Objects
  • Videos
  • Words

Websites with Examples of Visual Organizers:

Low-tech organizers

www.spectronicsinoz.com/product.asp?product=17625#commfolder

High-tech organizers

www.abilityhub.com/cognitive/index.htm

Personal Digital Assistants and Software

www.ablelinktech.com/

Job Development Strategies  

Many individuals with ASD have characteristics that could make them attractive to potential employers, including punctuality, attention to detail, consistency, reliability, or good visual-spatial or mechanical skills.  Whatever skills the person possesses, it is important to emphasize the strengths and the contributions (s)he could make to the business.

There are certain job development strategies that may be particularly useful and productive to prioritize when job searching with and for job seekers with ASD.

  • Person-centered planning is vital in the job placement process and helps job developers identify both the strengths and support needs that a person with ASD brings to the job search. Several ICI publications on this topic can be downloaded for free from the web:
    • Starting with Me: A Guide to Person-Centered Planning for Job Seekers
      www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=54&type=topic&id=3
    • More Than Just a Job: Person-Centered Career Planning
      www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=16&type=topic&id=3
  • Career Exploration. Many individuals with ASD may have to go through an extensive career exploration process, especially those with limited employment exposure and experience. Intensive counseling to identify options; spending time getting to know the neighborhood / community; participating in workplace tours and informational interviews; and trying out real job activities will help job seekers to hone in on employment interests and goals. Employment staff may also have to provide some individuals with alternative ways of expressing their preferences such as the use of AAC devices or by pointing to pictures or symbols. 
  • Job Carving/Job Creation can be an effective approach. It often makes sense to take advantage of a person’s unique set of skills and interests by carving out or creating a job within an existing business. In doing so, job developers need to demonstrate to the employer that the job seeker can make their business more efficient or productive. For more information about how to go about this process, see the ICI publication: 
    • When Existing Jobs Don’t Fit: A Guide to Job Creation
      www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=126&type=topic&id=3
  • Networking has been proven to speed up the job search! Building on the personal and professional business contacts of employment staff, the job seeker, family members, neighbors, and friends is a far more effective strategy for job development than making cold calls. This can often enhance that vital opportunity by providing a foot in the door to individuals with more significant barriers. For more information and tips about the how-tos of networking, see ICI publications:
    • Networking: A Consumer Guide to an Effective Job Search
      www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=62&type=topic&id=3
    • Making Networking Easier for Job Seekers: A Guide
      www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=138&type=topic&id=3
    • Teaching Networking Skills: Paving a Way to Jobs and Careers (manual)
      This manual provides a curriculum directly for use with job seekers. It can be downloaded for free at www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=251 or purchased through the ICI Publications Office (see back page for ordering information).

Application Strategies and Accommodations 

Differences in communication and social interaction styles among individuals with ASD can make some of the up-front job search activities such as interviews and applications difficult. Some job seekers struggle with the big picture and may not understand what the employer is looking for or how much detail to provide. A number of large corporations now require prospective employees to take computer-based personality assessments. These can be especially hard for individuals with ASD.

One common strategy is to practice interviews in advance. There are a number of other solutions to these issues involving accommodations to the application/interview process. These include:

  • Selective disclosure of the job seeker’s disability by employment staff to prepare an employer, in order to obtain accommodations in an interview or when completing an application. For example, the job developer could explain to the employer that Tom, his job seeker, is a great worker, but has difficulty making eye contact and may not come across well in the interview. The employer may then be more willing to consider alternative ways of screening this candidate.
  • Obtaining interview questions in advance
  • Job seeker asking for assistance from employment staff or other “interpreter” when taking computer-based personality tests
  • Asking for alternatives to traditional interviews
    • Less formal (e.g., tours)
    • Use of portfolios
    • Job try-outs

Getting the Job Seeker Involved

Use creative and customized strategies to keep the job seeker involved and engaged in planning and job search activities. Incorporate AAC, photographs, story writing, or other expressive alternatives. Tasks that job seekers can contribute include:

  • Designing and delivery of invitations for the career planning meeting
  • Providing important information about job preferences, even if communication is limited. A person with a yes/no response might visit a variety of potential work sites and be asked whether (s)he likes each. Pictures can be taken so that the job seeker can be asked to point to his or her favorite. Job seekers who are non-verbal can also choose from two pictures to indicate job preferences (Lattimore, Parsons & Reid, 2002). 
  • Talking to friends and family about ideas for jobs
  • Gathering business cards and job applications from places at which they are interested in working
  • Compiling a list of things or photos they are proud of, to share with an employer at an interview

Situational Assessment as Job Try-out: A Central Strategy for Persons with Limited Communication

The reality for many people with ASD is that the typical hiring criteria are going to exclude them from getting the job. Why not offer the employer an opportunity to fully evaluate the individual’s ability to do the job tasks by allowing him/her to try the job out for a few hours, a day, or even a couple of days, at no obligation to the employer? This also gives the individual the chance to understand the job and to make an informed decision about whether (s)he wants to work there. The job try-out should be portrayed as a reasonable accommodation of the normal hiring process, under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), in order that the applicant gets equal consideration. The following are important guidelines for using situational assessment in this way:

  • Establish clear parameters with all involved, including length of assessment and when the hiring decision will be made.
  • Explain the idea of situational assessment to the job seeker and only use it if (s)he is absolutely comfortable with it.
  • Involve co-workers and supervisors so that the fit between the job seeker and the work culture and available supports can be identified, and the employer has sufficient information to make a hiring decision.
  • Explain clearly to the employer that the purpose is to determine potential for successful job performance over the long-term, rather than immediate mastery of the job by the end of the assessment.

Conclusion

Over the past few years, much attention and research has focused on persons with ASD. There are reasons to be optimistic that employment outcomes for this population can and will continue to improve:

  • Expanding knowledge base about effective employment supports for workers with ASD
  • Growing public understanding and sensitivity about individuals with autism
  • Tremendous potential of assistive technology
  • Growing recognition that autism is not a “vocational disorder” 

Individuals with ASD can work, but we need to match them with jobs that build on their strengths and interests.  At the same time, we need to carefully consider the demands of particular jobs, the physical and social environments, and how we might provide instruction or accommodations that will make success possible.  This requires precise support and planning, collaboration, creative strategizing, and, most importantly, an intimate understanding of the person with ASD as a unique individual. This takes time, perseverance, and commitment, but it works! 

References / Resources

Bellini, S. (2006). Building social relationships: A systematic approach to teaching social interaction skills to children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and other social difficulties.  Shawnee Mission, KS:  Autism Asperger Publishing Co.

Billstedt, E., Gillberg, C., & Gillberg, C. (2005). Autism after adolescence: Population-based 13- to 22-year follow-up study of 120 individuals with autism diagnosed in childhood. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 35(3), 351-360.

Duffy, T., Oppermann, R., Smith, M.R. & Shore, S. (2007).  Supporting successful employment. In D. Dew & G. Alan (Eds.), Rehabilitation of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (Institute on Rehabilitation Issues Monograph No. 32) (89-118). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, Center for Rehabilitation Counseling Research and Education.

Emmons, P.G. & Anderson, L.M. (2005). Understanding sensory dysfunction: learning, development and sensory dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, learning disabilities and bipolar disorder. London:  Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Fast, Y. et al. (2004). Employment for Individuals with Asperger syndrome: Stories and Strategies. London. Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.

Gilbride, D., Vandergoot, D., Golden, K., Stensrud, R. (2006). Development and Validation of  the Employer Openness Survey.  Rehabilitation and Counseling Bulletin, 49(2), 81-89.

Grandin, T., Duffy, K. (2004). Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS:  Autism Asperger Publishing Co.   

Hagner D. & Cooney, B.F. (2005).  “I do that for everybody”: Supervising employees with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 20(2), 91-97.

Hagner D. (2000) Coffee Breaks and Birthday Cakes: Evaluating Workplace Cultures To Develop Natural Supports for Persons with Disabilities. St. Augustine, FL. Training Resource Network, Inc.

Henn, J. & Henn, M. (2005).  Defying the odds: You can’t put a square peg in a round hole no matter how hard you try.  Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 22, 120-130.

Hoff, D., Gandolfo, C., Gold, M., & Jordan, M. (2000).  Demystifying job development:  Field based approaches to job development for persons with disabilities.  St. Augustine, FL: Training Resource Network.

Howlin, P., Goode, S., Hutton, J., & Rutter, M. (2004). Adult outcomes for children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 45(2), 212-229.

Hurlbutt, K. & Chalmers, L. (2004).  Employment and adults with Asperger syndrome. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19(4), 215-222.

Lattimore, L. P., Parsons, M. B., & Reid, D. H. (2002). A prework assessment of task preferences among adults with autism beginning a supported job. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35(2), 85.

Leekam, S. R., Nieto, C., Libby, S. J., Wing, L., & Gould, J. (2007). Describing the sensory abnormalities of children and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(5), 894-910.

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Muller, E., Schuler, A., Burton, B., & Yates, G. (2003). Meeting the vocational support needs of individuals with Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 18, 163-175. 

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Worksheet

Ten Preliminary Questions to Ask About Employment Supports for an Individual with ASD

These questions below are designed to help employment specialists and individuals with ASD think about the kind of job they might want and the kind of supports they might need to be successful. As you begin the job development process you may not be able to answer all these questions. However, you should be able to answer most of them by the time the person with ASD is ready to begin a job.

  1. What are some of his or her strengths? What makes this person unique?
  2. How might this person benefit from having a job?
  3. List some of the obstacles that you think may get in the way of him or her becoming employed.
  4. What are some of the communication issues he or she deals with? How might these issues interfere with job performance? What kinds of support might he or she need to communicate socially? To communicate job-related information?
  5. Has this person reported any problems with touch, sounds, smells or things that he or she sees? Does he or she ever overreact to some sensations such as light touch, certain tastes or smells, particular noises, etc.? Does he or she crave any sensations such as deep pressure from hugs or heavy blankets? Does he or she have any repetitive movements such as rocking? Does anyone who knows the person well notice any issues? Is there anything that helps when the person reacts negatively to a sensation?
  6. Are there social or behavioral issues that might get in the way of succeeding at a job? Are there any particular kinds of environment that might help this person be more successful? What kinds of supports or instruction would you need to think about providing to the person? To co-workers and employers?
  7. Does the person need help in organizing the work or schedule? Has there been anything that has worked in the past in helping this person understand his or her schedule or in understanding what will come next?
  8. What kinds of things increase his or her anxiety? What helps? What kinds of supports for anxiety issues would be necessary for the person on a job? Are there any kinds of work environments that would probably help this person experience less anxiety?
  9. What personal, organizational, neighborhood, or family networks can you access to help this person find a job?
  10. Does the person need help in applying for jobs or in participating in interviews? 

New Manual!

Teaching Networking Skills: Paving a Way to Jobs and Careers

Easy-to-use curriculum enables employment staff to teach job seekers how to network. Download the pdf for free at...

www.communityinclusion.org/article.php?article_id=251

Contact the ICI Publications Office to order a hard copy three-ring binder of the curriculum.

About the Authors

Alan Kurtz is a research associate at the Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (CCIDS) at the University of Maine in Orono.

Melanie Jordan is a training associate at the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Cecilia Gandolfo, Janet May, Janine Collins, Gayla Dwyer, and David Hagner for their input and editorial assistance. This publication was funded by a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education (grant #H264BO50009). The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantees and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education.

For more information, contact:

Publications Office
Institute for Community Inclusion
UMass Boston
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Boston, Massachusetts 02125
617-287-4300 (voice); 617-287-4350 (TTY)
ici@umb.edu