Employment and the Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Overview of Mariah's Support Strategies

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As the end of the work experience grew closer, the owner of the shop expressed an interest in possibly hiring Mariah part time as several of her other staff would be leaving for college in the next few months. The team decided to focus on and establish a set of strategies to address her challenges and help Mariah to continue her work experience with the possibility of future employment.

Visual Supports

  • A visual schedule was provided with moveable words and icons. Mariah was presented with the schedule when she arrived; however, if the day changed, the schedule items were adjusted and reviewed with Mariah. Eventually, she began to make the schedule adjustments herself when she was informed of the change in schedule.
  • The job coach began making checklists of several jobs and posted them near the locations where the jobs generally were completed. These helped not only Mariah, but any other employee that needed a reminder.
  • Color coding also helped with efficiency. Items were discounted every 30 days on Wednesdays. She found that if she highlighted items that arrived in week one in yellow, two in blue, three in green and four in pink she could quickly scan the shelves and racks and pick out the items of the appropriate week to discount rather than having to look at each item.


  • Visual routines of 16 jobs were developed and placed on a Tablet. When Mariah had difficulty remembering the steps to a routine she could refer to the Tablet visual routines.
  • Mariah is also learning to video the supervisor or coworker demonstrating a job so that she can watch it on her Smartphone or add it to the tablet as a reminder of how to complete a task. These were especially helpful when the schedule changed and she was becoming anxious.
  • Mariah learned to set alarms on her phone to remind her of breaks and returning to the job task. The team is trying a ‘white noise’ app with ear buds that might be able to help when she is unable to move to a quiet location.

Teaching the "Hidden Curriculum"

  • Social Narratives were used to help explain the different roles in the workplace and generally how to approach coworkers, customers and the boss. If unsure she could default to using these scripted interactions.
  • Role-play or practicing ‘small talk’ at home with her family helped to identify a few areas of interest that would likely be safe to discuss at work with coworkers such as: weather, popular TV shows, or plans for the weekend. She also practiced strategies to escape social situations when uncomfortable, yet not seem unkind or disinterested.

Pacing Task Demands

  • Task demands were also reviewed. When a change was necessary, the supervisor attempted to first assign a favorite/less demanding task to Mariah to help her successfully make the adjustment. This task might only take 10 or 15 minutes, but helped her adapt to the change. While working through this task that she was confident to complete, Mariah became less anxious and was able to face the change in the schedule with less anxiety.

Sensory Supports

  • Job routines that required Mariah to work in a noisy setting for extended periods of time tended to be the most stressful. Her supervisor and coworkers noticed that it helped Mariah to organize and be more independent if she had the opportunity to periodically worked in a quiet room. With the variety of job tasks that needed accomplished, it was quite easy to assign tasks in quiet locations or move a task to a quieter room.
  • When the schedule changed, care was taken to assign a few jobs that could be accomplished in a quiet location. These accommodations allowed an opportunity to reduce sensory stressors as she made the schedule adjustments.

Team Communication and Coordination

  • Mariah’s supervisor, coworkers, school job coach, mother and teacher developed a team approach to support her. This team communicated regularly to create a plan to support her through the changes that occurred during the work experience.
  • Ideas were shared, and as a team they were successful in helping Mariah accept the changing nature of the employment.

As a result of this plan and the targeted supports, Mariah began to understand that change could be managed and that predictability can be reinstated using the identified supports. Mariah showed interest and ability to work in this setting. Ultimately, this work experience led to part-time paid employment in the consignment shop.

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