Employment and the Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Functional Life Skills and Employment

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Teaching students functional life skills is a high-evidence secondary transition practice (Test, 2007) that can positively impact employment success!

Functional skills are the skills a person needs in order to live and work as independently as possible. Skills are defined as ‘functional’ when the skill supports and improves the person's level of independence. For some, those skills may be learning to care for personal needs. For others, it may be learning to use a bus. And still for others it includes learning how to work as part of a team. Academic knowledge may be viewed through the lens of ‘functional skills’ when that knowledge is used to problem-solve situations and succeed in new environments. The need for functional skill competence holds true for all individuals on the autism spectrum, including those that communicate well and have excellent cognitive skills.

When planning with and supporting individuals with ASD to achieve employment, some team members may not recognize the importance of targeting functional skill development. The primary focus may be on vocational skill development; therefore, the skills needed to travel, navigate, communicate, problem-solve and socialize in the workplace may be overlooked or not seen as a priority. However, this could not be further from the truth! These skills are critical to employment success and should be seen as equally important.

Teams should sure to:

  • Identify the priority functional life skills needed in the workplace
  • Assess the individual's abilities and needs related to these skills
  • Includes skill development and support in the employment preparation and planning

Family support is invaluable! However, families may not recognize that they have the opportunity to support skill mastery by targeting important adult life skills and behavior patterns with their children. And the sooner the better! Families can begin these efforts in childhood and continue into the adult years.

Download What Parents Can Do Now here

Examples of strategies parents can use to support the development of employability skills:

Provide visual, environmental and other technology to support independence and intentionally reduce adult assistance.

  • Assign weekly/daily household chores
  • Incorporate the opportunity to practice following directions in family routines
  • Provide reinforcement for work and task completion
  • Support grooming and hygiene habits that will be expected in the workplace
  • Establish and maintain daily routines that will be used throughout adult life.
    • Example: Preparing clothes and school items in the evening for the following day. Shower and morning routines. Preparing simple meals. Gathering needed materials for a task. Reduce adult support for routine activities such as waking up with an alarm rather than by parent direction.
    • Use visual supports and teach with prompting until able to use supports independently.
  • Teach shopping and making change or use of debit/credit cards
  • Discuss the difference in interactions between employer to employee, friend to friend, coworker to coworker. Practice the skills needed for each.

The National Parent Center on Transition and Employment emphasizes the need for families to “take note of your child’s “soft skills” in their parent brief on Transition Employment: What Parents Can Do Now.

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