For a young adult with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the social and behavioral intricacies of getting a job can be daunting. And once they find a job and successfully navigate the interview process, staying employed can present new challenges. Negative work experiences range from lack of tolerance, problems with social interactions—co-workers often don’t recognize social norms as challenges for their peers with ASD—and limited time to learn new tasks. These issues can lead to short employment stints for people with autism.
Adults with ASD need help with the multiple skills required for job hunting and workplace success, such as creating resumes, navigating the job-application process, interviewing, interpersonal problem-solving, transitioning independently to new tasks and/or routines, examining work errors, asking for help when needed, and forming realistic job expectations. Compared to other young adults with disabilities, those with ASD have the lowest rate of employment.
So how can speech-language pathologists help? We can incorporate a variety of evidence-based practices into sessions that can assist our clients with ASD in finding, getting and succeeding at a new job.
- Mock interviews: Use practice interviews to help clients understand what to expect during a real job interview. Consider videotaping the mock interview. You and your client can review the interview and discuss body language and on-topic responses. Remember, video modeling is an evidence-based practice.
- Technology: Encourage young adults with ASD to use their cell phone or tablet alarms to help them transition between tasks, such as searching for job openings, tweaking their resume to fit specific openings and writing cover letters. Have them set alarms to initiate and stop each task. Technology-aided instruction and intervention is also an evidence-based practice.
- Self-management skills: Once a client with ASD has a job, this evidence-based practice focuses on young adults accurately monitoring and recording their own behaviors and rewarding themselves appropriately. Consider integrating goal-setting as an intervention. I like to follow the SMART framework. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (or Rigorous/Realistic/Results-focused) and Timely or Trackable.
- Self-advocacy: SLPs can play a large role in encouraging self-advocacy for clients with ASD. Part of self-advocacy might involve clients disclosing their disability to raise awareness among managers and co-workers. Help your client create a list of strategies for the employer—such as a peer mentor, task checklists, and constructive feedback presented frequently and visually—in areas where the client might need extra support or accommodations. SLPs can also help clients prepare for challenges or frustrations they will potentially face. Brainstorm situations or conflicts that might arise—noise distractions, small talk, sarcasm—and how your client can handle them.
More on helping young adults with autism transition to employment:
Unfortunately, not enough services and multidisciplinary supports are available to help young adults with autism transition post-high school. Fortunately, SLPs can help clients with autism prepare for successful employment, including teaching self-advocacy and facilitating workplace strategies.
Monica C. Hudnall, MA, CCC-SLP, specializes in autism spectrum disorders and culturally/linguistically diverse populations. She’s provided treatment in public schools and early intervention, serving 18-month to 21-year-olds with mild to severe communication impairments in the San Francisco Bay area. firstname.lastname@example.org