Employment and the Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Strategies for Employment Success for ASD - Communication and Socialization

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A place to begin when developing supports for communication or social challenges includes collecting information (successes, strategies, and challenges) from current and past environments. When engaging in career exploration discussions, use this information to describe the individual’s successful work environment. Consider what types of social expectations or challenges might hinder the work performance. Proactively identify these social challenges in order to develop supports and accommodations for successful work transition and completion of task. The information below offers frequently encountered social or communication challenges and support strategies that could assist the individual to be successful. And, when paired with the right job and the right supports, individuals with ASD can also improve a company’s profit in a variety of markets.

Characteristics of Communication/Socialization Challenges

Some individuals may only demonstrate a few of the following characteristic challenges. Others may struggle with many of the issues listed below.

  • Often struggles to identify and understand the social norms of the workplace on his own. (The “Hidden Curriculum”).
  • May make social errors and not realize that a mistake has been made. Or may recognize that a social error was made , but not understand why it was wrong.
  • May have difficulty recognizing, identifying and understanding own emotions and the emotions of others.
  • Some can have difficulty understanding verbal directions, especially multi-step directions.
  • Often has limited ability to read body language or misreads body language.
  • Individual with ASD’s body language or facial expressions may not match his internal thoughts or feelings.
  • Inappropriate comments during a social situations. May not match the emotional feel of the group (extremely sad or exciting). Or may be too informal for the social relationship (ex: speaking loudly and injecting thoughts during the bosses staff meeting, joining a private conversation of company executives without being invited).
  • Self-advocacy or self-determination skills may not come naturally or easily and are often not learned solely through observation.
  • Limited scope of topics for ‘small talk’. Prefers to talk to others about a limited (favorite) set of topics without regard to other’s interest or time limitations.
  • May appear to use words and phrases appropriately, however may not really understand the meaning or intent.
  • May use few words, yet understands much of what is said.
  • May not speak or have little speech, yet reads and understands with a high level of literacy.

Possible Strategies to Address Challenges

Communication and Social supports and interventions address a large spectrum of need. Strategies are needed for individuals that have varying levels of skill and experience. In order to select effective supports and strategies, it is essential to understand the person’s strengths, foundational needs and preferred social environments. Below are several strategies to consider.

  • Assess the individual’s current level of social competency.

    In order to determine the impact of social competency on employment success, gather information and discuss the following:

    • What types of social instruction, social supports and social cueing does the individual require to successfully complete the job, and engage in typical social interactions with coworkers and supervisors?
  • Use What Has Worked.

    Review information from previous assessments and plans to identify information for effective social and communication supports. Do not assume that the individual has "grown out of" the need for these strategies and supports.

  • Begin with Intensity.

    In new situations, supports will likely need to be intensified initially and then modified, as the situation becomes more familiar and predictable.

  • Identify the Hidden Curriculum.

    Individuals with ASD frequently need supports to identify the "hidden curriculum"and remember the social norms and expectations of the employment environment. Begin by identifying the important Hidden Curriculum of the workplace. Once identified assess the individual’s awareness and skill to navigate the social expectations. Download The Hidden Curriculum of the Workplace: Uncover Social Expectations of the Job and the Impact to Employment Success to assist in identifying and addressing the Hidden Curriculum.

  • Explore the free section of the JobTIPS website for examples of printable visual reminders of how to navigate the social environment at work as well as videos that demonstrate some of these skills)
  • Visual Supports.

    These are Critical! Individuals with ASD are generally visual learners and often respond well to visual information to help navigate employment environments. A variety of visual strategies and supports may be found to be effective. Review additional information and examples of Visual Supports for Communication and Socialization.

  • Consider Video Modeling.

    An evidence based strategy that has found to assist in teaching social awareness and social skills is Video Modeling. Individuals are provided with a clear video demonstration of the skill to be used through a short video. Detailed information about Video Modeling can be found in Session Four of the What Works for Work Evidence Based Practice Series.

  • Develop, Teach, and Provide the Five Point Scale.

    To promote awareness of escalating emotions or anxiety, the Five Point Scale strategy provides a way for the individual to recognize when he is becoming uncomfortable or upset before it reaches a critical state. Pairing strategies with this awareness creates a tool that the individual can learn to use independently in the workplace.

  • Include Reinforcement.

    To motivate and teach skills, reinforce the individual as he performs new jobs or social skills. Reinforcement can range from earning a tangible reward to verbal or gestural praise as long as it is valued by the individual and specific to him. View and example of using visual supports in tandem with reinforcement in the workplace to promote success.

  • Provide Technology for Communication.

    For users of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device users must have the worksite vocabulary programmed into the device. Having a back-up of low-tech alternatives in case of a device failure is essential.

  • Encourage Natural Supports.

    Help co-workers understand, recognize and value the employee with ASD. Model for the coworkers how to successfully interact with and support social awareness for the individual. This can help stimulate the development of ongoing natural supports.

  • Seek Out or Establish Job Clubs.

    Organized after work, job clubs function as a problem-solving peer group for employees with ASD. Such groups can offer ongoing peer and facilitator support for problem solving, communication and social issues on the job.

While every individual is unique and no one aspect of the individual's strengths or challenges can determine the right employment options, it is critical not to assume individuals with ASD cannot succeed in many environments. In some situations, the individual's differences may actually be the factor that leads to unique employment opportunities. Employment examples below are offered as a way to think differently about the potential of individuals with ASD.

  • Telethon-Scripted phone call
  • Email responses for reservations to restaurants, event venues, appointments, conferences, museums, or for other organizations that take reservations.
  • Chat help/support for multiple companies through an online chat option

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