The goal for any student moving from secondary school to employment is to establish a career path that utilises their strengths and interests. Finding a fulfilling career often ensures a sense of purpose, independence, confidence and financial security. However, finding a career path that fits both your interests and strengths is often challenging and this can be particularly true for adolescents or adults on the autism spectrum. Some of the specific challenges for individuals with this presentation can include the social challenges associated with finding an opportunity, selling their skills and abilities to prospective employers and knowing how to effectively communicate with their supervisors and colleagues once employed (Lee & Carter, 2012). While students on the autism spectrum may have average or above average intelligence, fundamental challenges with communication may affect their ability to gain employment post school (Szidon et al. 2015).
A recent literature review by Karnik, 2017, highlighted work experience, self-advocacy skills and family participation as three important factors in the successful transition from high school to the workforce.
Important factors for success:
1. Work experience
Work experience is important for any student but especially important to help students with autism to learn work related skills and to generalise these skills to a workplace setting. Participating in real life situations is an effective way to learn workplace skills for students on the autism spectrum. In fact, the research is clear that placing people with autism in real life work placements during school increases their chances of obtaining a job after school (Karnik, 2017). It is important that a work experience placement also fits with the individual strengths, skills and interests. Not only does this increase the motivation of the student on the spectrum but sharing an interest with work colleagues can make the social aspects of work easier to navigate. Another benefit to appropriate work experience placements is that they can help to improve connections with the local community (Molina & Demchak, 2016).
2. Family participation
The ability of family members to see the potential of an individual on the autism spectrum can be a significant boost to their success post school (Carter et al., 2012). Maintaining high expectations is one of the most valuable contributions family members can provide as adolescents transition to the workplace. Another important factor for family members is to support individuals on the spectrum to learn how to access federal funding, support agencies, transportation and appropriate living situations after school. Finding out about these services, including what resources are available after school and how to connect with supportive agencies, can be crucial to a successful transition beyond high-school.
3. Self-advocacy skills
Self-advocacy is helping students speak up for what they want to do with their lives and expressing to others what it is that they require to achieve their goals. These skills can be a challenge for many individuals on the autism spectrum; however, research has identified that students on the spectrum perform better when they know how to advocate for themselves. Students with autism need to know how to talk with others about their goals after school and how they plan to achieve them. Howerda et al.’s (2013) research concluded that 90% of students on the autism spectrum stated that in order to gain employment a positive attitude and motivation toward working were significant factors for their success.
The purpose of this article was to summarise important factors that make the transition from school to work more successful. Experience in the workforce, families involved in transition planning and teaching self-advocacy skills are important factors at this time for young adults with autism. Working with schools, organisations and the local community to plan for a successful transition to the workforce should be a priority in the final years of high-school education.
Author: Mr Jay Hobbs, Psychologist
Karnik, Katie L., “Transitioning Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders from High School to the Workforce: A Literature Review” (2017). Culminating Projects in Special Education. 50. http://repository.stcloudstate.edu/sped_etds/50