Finding job placement for an adult with autism involves a number of steps. I’ve talked about identifying jobs in previous columns. That’s just the beginning. Once an employer has met the autistic individual, I have had a meeting with the employer about the job, and I have done everything I can to try to get someone with autism hired, we play the waiting game for the phone call. I can tell you from experience, there is no better feeling in the world then getting that phone call from the employer saying “We have decided to hire your individual.” There is also no greater reward for my job then calling up a parent or telling them in person that I got their child a job, when even the parents think the individual will never work. And it’s not about just finding someone with autism any job, but finding them the right job. The right job—one that can be maintained—can provide an autistic adult a chance to earn money and have a sense of independence.
Once we have found the job and the employer has worked out all the details, it is now time to start training. Even if the job is something the individual has done in the past, it’s a good idea to have a job trial. This way the staff or the manager can see where the individual will be working, see how the individual does with specific tasks, and everyone can make sure the environment is right for the individual to be working in. An example of this might be if the individual already knows how to clean gym equipment from past experience, I might have found them a job doing the same thing but in a different gym. We then would want to make sure that this specific environment is right for the individual and for everyone else at the jobsite as well. A job trial is also a good way to identify the areas the individual may need help in as they perform the job. The staff can plan training accordingly or the parent can help develop skills on days the individual is not working.
If the job is something the individual has never done before, then some training days will be needed. There are many different ways to teach someone with autism a new job, but no way works better than another. You may have to try different ways of teaching to find the right one to fit your individual. It is often useful to do a "task analysis." Break the job down into small steps and teach one step at a time, and then once the individual has completed all steps separately you can have them combine the steps into one task. Adding a checklist to this process can help, too. Once the individual has completed a step, have them check it off as a reward for finishing the task. This way, the staff or parent can also see which steps the individual needs the most work on and help with.
Some individuals may need a more supported approach to teaching them something new. For this we can use the “hand-over-hand” method of teaching. This is where the staff or parent actually does the task while holding the individual’s hand. Little by little, the staff or parent pulls their hand away until the individual can do the task independently. Another method to go along with hand-over-hand teaching, is “modeling.” This is where the staff or parent actually does the task, showing and explaining each step. Then the staff or parent has the individual do the task, helping them as needed along the way.
There is no one right way of teaching someone with autism how to do a job. It is just a matter of finding the teaching method that works best for the individual to do the job independently. Some individuals may always need a job coach, and some might be able to do jobs without any help at all. The reason I do what I do is to help adults with autism achieve the independence of earning their own money and joining America’s workforce. And to help demonstrate that just because someone has autism doesn’t mean they can’t have jobs in the community.