Society is well rid of the days when “special education” meant sequestering kids in classes that rarely taught anything above kindergarten level, and post-graduation employment was limited to “sheltered workshops.” Still, autism and intellectual disorders mean extra challenges navigating the threshold between high school and independent adulthood.
For today’s post, three Easter Seals Greater Houston team members share their insights on preparing teens with autism for adulthood, and—in honor of Take Your Child to Work Day on April 27—providing opportunities to experience the “adult everyday” even earlier.
Autism Meets the Neurotypical World
Robert Williams, Transition and Employment Program Director: Many of the challenges for our family stemmed from our son, Ross, being as intelligent as he is. People often assume that intelligence equals freedom from social deficits—so they react to autistic behavior as if that person had some defect in their personality. This led, in Ross’s case, to not wanting to go places where there would be people he didn’t know. When he did interact with them, he wouldn’t look them in the eye, and he was more soft-spoken than I ever saw him with family and friends. After answering a single question from a new acquaintance, he would usually try to move away from the conversation and read a book. He always carried books with him—they gave him an excuse to sit alone and not talk to people.
Ross has learned a lot since his official autism diagnosis. He’s now preparing for a career in information technology. Bill Martin, our contract IT guy at Easter Seals, has been a great help there, guiding Ross in articulating what he knows and does best. We use a similar approach in our pre-employment transition classes at Easter Seals: have the students tell us what they want to do, match their self-identified strengths with the job, and help them work on elevator speeches. We also use situational stories, where the students act out parts and then state what they would have said rather than what was in the script.
Using Assistive Technology
Amy Barry, BridgingApps Digital Marketing Lead: Here’s a list of assistive technologies I recommend becoming familiar with when preparing for transition to long-term employment:
- LinkedIn, for creating your online resume and for general job seeking;
- Zoom, for remote interviews and meetings;
- Apple Clock App, for waking up and getting other reminders;
- Notes, for quick and easy access to work-related details;
- Google Calendar, for keeping track of work days, appointments, and events;
- Gmail, for corresponding with potential employers.
Robert Williams: Besides scheduling and calendar apps, I recommend Livescribe for taking down information. A lot of our students have trouble taking notes while listening to an instructor, and the Livescribe system uses pens with built-in recorders. You just tap “record” on a page in one of their notebooks, and then, whatever you immediately get onto the page, you can later use the “play” function to clarify exactly what the instructor was saying.
Seeing the Work World Close Up
It may be that your children are still some years away from transitioning. But even before elementary school, you can start easing them into being comfortable with a “typical” adult world.
Marjorie Reichard, BridgingApps Project Manager: I have taken my kids to work on many occasions, since they were under six years old. I did have to adjust expectations for them and myself: when I went in thinking “have to get something done,” it never went well. I soon learned to make sure I didn’t have any stressful deadlines or meetings before bringing the kids along. We tried a meeting once and it was just too distracting.
At first, I had to limit their time at the office to less than two hours. By the time they were six, they could last a full morning. I made sure to bring things for them to play with—coloring, pencil and paper, tablets—so I could finish some work. They also liked it when I set up a cardboard box as their “own desk” to work alongside Mom.
For a library of additional transition resources, visit https://www.texasyouth2adult.com/.