Employment and the Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Strategies for Employment Success for ASD - Repetitive Behavior and Need for Sameness

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A place to begin when developing supports for individuals with repetitive behaviors and the need for sameness in their daily routines includes collecting information (successes, strategies, and challenges) from current and past environments. When engaging in career exploration discussions, use this information to inform the individual’s successful work environment. Consider the level of routine and repetition required in the work environment and tasks and build success from these procedures and practices. Also identify the individual's repetitive behaviors and routines that could potentially hinder or challenge his work performance. Proactively develop supports and accommodations that can enhance successful transition and completion of task. The table below offers frequently encountered 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 Repetitive Behavior, Routines and Need for Sameness Challenges

  • As a child may engage in repetitive movements such as hand flapping, spinning, or pacing. Often in a predictable pattern. As an adult, may pace and rock while working or in other activities.
  • May repetitively sing, hum or repeat sounds.
  • In a work setting, may organize the day or the work tasks to occur everyday at the same time.
  • Working in the same setting is typically welcomed and provides a sense of control for the individual.
  • May prefer the work tasks to include clear beginning and ending points. Often prefers a set of sequenced steps to clarify the job.
  • Daily routines may be fixed and require activities to occur at specific and non-negotiable times such as mealtimes, laundry, watching TV, bedtime, social interactions, shopping, etc. Can cause great distress if schedule is interrupted.
  • Can be very time orentiented and dependent on activities to occur at specific and exact times. When activities do not occur as planned can become quite distressed.
  • May resist change in schedule, people, materials, etc.

Possible Strategies to Address Challenges

  • Using Repetitive Behaviors and Routines may be an effective strategy for success.

    The individual may count on the same routines each day in order to navigate difficult or confusing situations. Building on the individual's desire for routines by establishing daily routines can lead to increased independence and success. These routines can bring a sense of control and calmness, as well. Provide extra time and prepare the person when asking to change or accept a new routine.

  • Tailored Career Development.

    Activities should be focused on locating the “right match” or “best fit” for the individual rather than picking a convenient or available option. Select the vocational experiences that are well suited for the routines and repetitive patterns of behavior a person may experience. Consider the environments and activities that are most motivating for the individual

  • Review Visual Support Strategies.

    These strategies are introduced in the Communication and Socialization strategy section, however, these strategies also assist in teaching new routines. A variety of visual strategies and supports may be found in the section Visual Support Strategies for Communication and Socialization.

  • Individualize the Work Schedule.

    • Time.

      Adjust the starting or ending of the work day. Allow an earlier or later start or ending time if this allows for daily routines before and during work hours to run more smoothly.

    • Customize break times.

      Allow for more or less breaks as needed. Vary the length of breaks. Develop break routines to assist the person to take advantage of breaks without becoming anxious or feel as if the schedule is disrupted.

    • Provide the individual with a visual schedule of the work routine.

      Use the type of visual that works best for the individual (words, pictures, symbols, objects, etc.)

  • Begin With Routine.

    If an individual engages in a routine of pacing before beginning the job, provide a visual schedule that begins with a functional movement task that includes pacing/walking and then transitions into to the typical work routine.

  • Build Into Breaks.

    Provide space and time for an individual to engage in a brief routine (example: pace, walk, rock) and then return to job. These short breaks and movement can allow for better concentration and work completion.

  • Be Proactive.

    Do not assume the individual can just ‘figure it out’ when it is a new task, even if it is similar to those in the past. Provide clear direction and step by step examples of how a task is completed.

  • The Unexpected.

    When the structure and routine of the workplace changes be prepared by considering the following strategies:

  • Previous Success.

    Often a person has used strategies in other situations that have not been transferred to the workplace. Identify and use these strategies to assist during times of change. Strategies may include expanding visual supports, priming, sensory strategies or others.

  • Reduce Demands.

    Temporarily reduce the amount of work the individual is required to complete and/or provide more time to work on tasks where the person is not interrupted.

  • Team work! Together, analyze the supports that lead to success to better understand why these are useful. Have the team discuss the events or tasks that are difficult for individual and identify the support that can be provided prior to situations escalating.

  • Sensory.

    Review the sensory supports and sensory environment to make sure the supports are sufficient and that the environment is not overwhelming.

  • Is It Really a Problem?

    If the job or task is being completed with accuracy, and there is no distraction for others, consider allowing pacing, walking, or other routines to occur.

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.

  • Jobs with the same routine everyday such as a mail carrier or newspaper route
  • Packaging materials for shipments using established processes or procedures
  • Assembly work of the same or similar objects

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