Employment and the Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Executive Function Considerations for Assessment and Employment

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Strategies to support executive function challenges may need to be constantly available in the workplace, even when the person has been working in the same job of location for years. The goal of these types of supports is to make them a part of the workplace tools and not necessarily to “fade” these supports. They can be embedded into the work routines to promote independence and success. Potential environmental supports should be explored with the employer to gain insight into how the support might best be embedded in the workplace as well as to explain how the support will improve the job match and efficiency.


Assessment is the first step to building support for executive function challenges. Identify the expectations of the job and the demands of the workplace environment. These expectations and demands go beyond job descriptions and require a closer look in order to proactively build supports. Consider how well the person’s talents and executive function skills will match the job and workplace. Consider how the individual’s needs will be challenged by the workplace and job requirements. Will the individual require tools and supports to accomplish the necessary workplace organization? If so, the team should explore and identify supports and tools that can lead to success and independence on the job. Below are a few questions and considerations to include in the workplace assessment.

Workplace Tasks and Environments

Considerations for the Individual

How much planning and organization is required for the job?

Is the individual able to accomplish the needed planning and organization mentally or will tools be needed? Is he able to complete all the steps of the task without assistance? Does the individual currently use tools or will these need to be identified.

What types of work are to be completed? Review minor or routine tasks as well as the primary work to be accomplished.

Does the individual understand the work to be accomplished? Is he aware of all the tasks and activities that are part of the job? What is he able to accomplish independently and what will require assistance and support?

What materials are needed and how are they obtained?

Can the individual set up the job to be accomplished? Is she able to gather materials to complete the work such as office office supplies, cleaning materials, lab or health care supplies, etc.?

Where is the work to be completed? Multiple locations?

Is the individual comfortable in the environment?If the job requires moving between multiple areas, how well does the individual transition?

How much is to be completed? The entire task or portions?

Can the individual focus on completing only portions of a larger task or does he prefer to control the entire project? Is he able to leave a job for co-worker to complete, or does he require closure?

Is there a clear beginning and end to the tasks or jobs? Or does it vary?

How necessary is it for the individual to have consistent routines and steps to the work tasks? Is she able to tolerate variability in the tasks and modify what is done? Are tools needed to respond to prepare for and  compete tasks that will change or are not repetitive?

Is there a specific time allotted for completing the work?

Is the individual able to work under time restrictions? Can she monitor the time and adjust the work pace accordingly?

Is it clear what to do with the completed work and what to do next?

Is the individual adept at the tasks but once completed unable to transition to the next steps without support? Does the job result in products or results that need to be delivered and can the individual accomplish this independently?

Does the job require working as a team or alone?

Does the individual have the skills to work as part of a team? What social skills are required? Can she work alone if needed? Are supports needed to remember how to complete tasks and jobs when working alone?

How much distraction occurs in the work environment?

Can the individual remain focused on the work when attention is shifted to other activities in the environment? Does the job require the individual to shift attention from one task to another and back again? Is she able to shift and pull attention back to task without prompting?

Prioritize Environmental Supports and Tools

Executive function skills are foundational when building skills for independence. When individuals struggle to begin, stay on task or problem solve a situation, teachers, job coaches, parents and others will often prompt and direct the individual to complete the task. It is essential that a team pay close attention to the level of ‘people prompts’ that are provided and instead build strategies and environmental support to allow the person to be more independent. Early use of the least restrictive prompts for youth with ASD will give youth the tools to live a higher quality of life (NTACT). These tools include strategies such as visual schedules, low tech “jigs”, mobile technology, and other techniques. Teams should proactively plan to teach and support these and other tools for independence that help individuals with ASD to be prepared to work through the bumps in the road that will inevitably occur. Consider environmental supports such as visual reminders and workspace organization BEFORE asking coworkers, supervisors and job coaches to serve as “personal reminders.”

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