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PFA Tips: Build Employment Skills Now

By Sherry Moyer, MSW and Pathfinders for Autism

Download a printable version of “Build Employment Skills Now”

Obtaining meaningful employment that allows our children to be self-sustaining is a fundamental goal for any parent to support. For parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) however there are many additional barriers that must be overcome in order to achieve successful employment. There are foundational skills and issues that parents can address at any age in order to improve their child’s opportunities for successful employment as adults.
teens for employment skills
Address Global and Cognitive Skills
Global skills allow the individual to carry out all of the other tasks they must complete over the course of the day, including problem solving and understanding cause and effect.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Brainstorm with your children to allow them to safely generate ideas and evaluate the pros and cons of their options and exercise abstract thinking.
  • Individuals with ASD struggle with transitioning from one idea or activity to another. Help them to manage transitions by using timers, visual support signals such as a “stoplight” or self-monitoring checklists that indicate the next steps in a task.
  • Be a partner in problem solving. Help your children to identify goals, brainstorm the steps needed to achieve them, and be sure to help them evaluate how well their plan worked.

Teach Self-Regulation and Coping Strategies
Self-regulation of behavior directly influences our ability to maintain employment, achieve academically, and engage in daily life activities within the community.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Help your children learn to assess their circumstances so that they feel empowered to take control of the situation and improve it.
  • Teach your children to identify the signals that their body sends when their behavior is escalating.
  • Help your children to identify appropriate coping strategies to calm down when they are escalated. Children with ASD often use disruptive or destructive coping strategies (yelling, biting, etc.) because they do not know any other way to deal with their circumstances. Reward them every time they use a positive strategy before things get out of control.

Develop Social Competence
Social competence is our ability to blend in and conform to the expectations of the people and situations around us. Almost by definition, social competence is a hallmark challenge of ASD and if not well developed, will interfere significantly with successful employment.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Help your children to identify the unwritten social rules for situations. Young adults may want to tell the boss they have a “better way” to do the job, but it is a social expectation that you do not point out that you think you are smarter than the boss.
  • Increase your child’s self-awareness and self-advocacy skills by asking them to make more decisions for themselves. Many teens with ASD leave the structured environment of school and struggle with independence simply because they haven’t had enough practice making decisions on their own.
  • Give your children as many opportunities to learn as you can possibly identify. Children with ASD can flourish when they are given instruction and time for practice without fear of judgment or negative reactions from adults.

Begin Transition Planning
Successful transition planning should include school-based services that focus on a wide range of instruction in hygiene, leisure management, community-based life skills and job exploration and functional academic skills.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Insist that your school begin transition services as soon as possible.
  • Include your child in every step of the transition process and IEP meetings. How else will they learn to identify their needs and express their preferences or concerns?
  • Never let other people or agencies unnecessarily limit your child’s future potential. Your efforts today will influence your child’s quality of life as adults.

Advancements in research, educational and therapeutic practices for children with ASD are happening every day. However, there is still much that parents can do to contribute to the process by paying attention to all of these skills as your children grow and mature. You will be “paying it forward” toward a future for your child built on their strengths, positive relationships and ability to gain and maintain employment.

We thankfully acknowledge Sherry Moyer, MSW, and parent of a child with ASD. These tips are an adapted excerpt from Ms. Moyer’s article, “Building Foundational Skills Now to Improve Employment Outcomes in the Future; Strategies for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders”. 

© 2009 Pathfinders for Autism



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