Employment and the Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Strategies for Employment Success for ASD - Executive Function

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A place to begin when developing supports for executive function 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 executive functioning inputs might hinder the work performance of the individual and proactively look for these organizational challenges in order to develop supports and accommodations for successful work transition and completion of task. The table below offers frequently encountered executive functioning challenges, support strategies and ideas for how individuals with these executive functioning challenges could improve a company’s profit in a variety of markets when paired with the right job.

The purpose of executive function supports includes assisting the person to understand:

  • The type of work to be completed
  • Where work tasks begin and end
  • What to do when the work is finished
  • Where work is to be completed
  • How to allocate time and pace the work to accomplish the task
  • How to transition between tasks and environments
  • How much work is to be completed
  • How to remain on-task
  • How to approach problem-solving issues and barriers

Characteristics of Executive Function Challenges

  • Difficulty organizing workspace and materials. Work area can appear messy
  • Has difficulty planning and completing work within a specific time frame. Difficulty predicting timeframes.
  • Can be easily distracted by activity and environment. Difficulty moving attention back to work.
  • Difficulty shifting attention among tasks. Difficulty multitasking.
  • Relating narrative information or summarizing a story either verbally or in writing is difficult.
  • Memorizing and recalling information accurately can be challenging.

Possible Strategies to Address Challenges

  • Available Supports.

    Explore the work environments prior to beginning a job to identify environmental and other ‘natural’ supports that are currently available for all employees.

  • Routines.

    Create predictability and structure by utilizing routines. Incorporate routines into the work plan or job requirements.

  • Priming.

    Prior to the workweek or work day, review weekly responsibilities. This may include both work and personal life. Also, review the supports that will be used to complete the job.

  • Visual Supports.
    • Demonstrate multi-step tasks using visual prompts and examples of final product.
    • Provide visual routines to complete task during structured and unstructured time periods.
    • Organize workspace with labels, photos, or symbols to help locate materials and complete tasks
    • Create organizational checklists of items needed for work task. Use words, pictures or items to create the checklists based on the individual’s need.
    • Provide a “jig” or form to complete tasks visually offering a “roadmap” throughout the task. Graphic organizers can be used to help in task completion and decision making.
    • Breakdown a task using a project planning and display the steps visually.
    • Quick fixes- use sticky notes as reminders when needing a “quick” visual support.
  • Apps.

    Use Apps for a variety of executive function needs, for example:

    • Apps for Postsecondary Goals.

      To assist transition teams, OCALI Lifespan Transition Center collaborated with the AT&AEM Center to create a resource list of apps for both iOS and Android users to reference that can help support greater access and independence for community membership, adult learning, and community employment. Review this continually updated resource list of apps for both the iOS and Android platform devices.

    • Take Five.

      Review short videos on several frequently used apps:

      • Navigate between environments and locations using Google Map.
      • Use technology to help adhere to time schedules such as timers and Google Calendars.
      • Use Google Hangout, Facetime, Skype or other virtual connections to job coaches or other ‘people supports’ when unable to problem-solve issues or questions.
  • Create Storage Area.

    If possible, create a space in work area where tools and materials for the job are predictably and consistently available.

  • Calendars and Timers.

    These can be useful in many locations and can support multiple needs.

    • Use calendars to track when work assignments are due and determine the time needed to complete task. Break down the larger task into smaller chunks of work and indicate on the calendar when those will be accomplished.
    • Use timers that have multiple sensory output cues: sound, vibration, and lights. Use the mode that works best for the individual and the environment. Use timers to alert to when a transition is coming, giving time to bring closure to the work before transition.
    • Place alarms in calendars on phone, tablet and/or computer to remind to take a break, get ready for a transition, or prepare to leave for the day.
  • Maps and Labels.

    Provide maps and label key rooms and locations for an individual as a way to learn the workplace environment and the function of the environment.

  • Adaptations for Individualization.

    All techniques for organizing, attending, problem-solving, may not work for everyone. If possible, determine why the support is not effective and identify adaptations to improve effectiveness.

  • Person-Centered.

    Finally, assure the individual is comfortable with the tools identified and agrees to use the tools in the workplace to increase success and independence.

Considerations for Employment:

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 difference 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.

  • Rental return of skates, videos or books, etc. Shelving or organizing returns
  • Preparing packages for shipment.
  • Putting materials together for a conference, marketing, or other event
  • Setting a banquet hall
  • Manufacturing or supply fulfillment center

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