Success Seminar: Developing a Job Search Preparation Class for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
By Janine Rowe
Historically, assessing outcomes of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) proved challenging due to unfamiliarity with a newly defined disorder. Current research shows improved social functioning, employment status, and independence in adults with ASD as compared to data from the 1940’s through the 1970’s (Henninger & Taylor, 2013). Despite recent advances, finding and maintaining satisfying employment can still be challenging for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Although often highly intelligent and strong academic achievers, 85% of adults with ASD are unemployed or underemployed (Bissonnette, 2013). While capable, job candidates with ASD frequently struggle with the social pressures inherent to the job search process. For example, they may have trouble understanding a potential employer’s body language, facial expressions, or idioms. If a candidate is uncomfortable with social exchanges, he or she may be experienced as unfriendly, intimidating, or unenthusiastic (Hawkins, 2004).
With greater numbers of young adults with ASD engaged in secondary education (A College Education for Individuals with Autism, 2013), career services and student support offices at universities are increasingly called upon to support these students in their career development. Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, consistently attracts students with ASD, who are often interested in our academic programs in media design and development, computing, and art. Success Seminar was developed at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to assist students with ASD across all disciplines with the transition from college to career.
Development of Success Seminar
Collaboration across departments revealed that several offices at RIT were assisting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services supports students through career counseling and advising. The Disability Services Office (DSO) helps students understand their rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensures that students have access to accommodations. The Spectrum Support Program (SSP) assists students who identify themselves to the DSO as being on the Autism Spectrum by providing support in executive functioning, development of social skills, and stress management. Each of these areas of support is essential to the career development of students with ASD.
In order to combine services, we decided to invite students to take a job search preparation course taught jointly between Spectrum Support Program and Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services. The DSO and SSP identified students with ASD in their second through fifth years at RIT who met one or more of the following criteria: 1) demonstrated difficulty with the job search process in the past, 2) enrolled in an academic program which requires a cooperative education experience for graduation, and/or 3) requested assistance with the job search process.
For winter 2012-2013, nine students were invited to take the zero-credit, pass/fail course, titled “Success Seminar.” SSP reviewed student schedules to find a mutually convenient class time for students, which was scheduled for 1.5 hours once a week for one academic quarter (10 weeks).
Success Seminar Course Details
Students will make use of campus and community resources available to support their career development.
Students will develop individualized job search plans, with clear goals and action items to carry out their plans.
Students will gain awareness of social “rules” and expectations related to job search tasks.
Students will learn skills necessary for a successful job search (such as resume writing and interviewing skills).
Students will experience increased self-efficacy in relation to career development.
Students will gain confidence with describing their career goals, professional history, strengths, and challenges.
The allotted course time was used for brief lectures to present content, class discussions, experiential activities, and time in class spent working on job application materials.
- Ensuring a great first impression
- Making small talk
- Organizing a job search
- Job application FAQ’s
- Following up on job applications
- Working a career fair
- Preparing for an interview:
- What to wear and what to bring
- Answering common interview questions
- Answering behavioral based interview questions.
Interactive exercises included:
- Mock interviews
- Resume-writing workshop
- Skill identification activity
- Understanding body language
- Prepare and practice “60-second commercial”
- Culminating class activity: Students attended a “Professional Networking Seminar,” designed to give students an opportunity to practice the skills they learned in the class. Community members with a special interest in working with students with disabilities were invited to an informal reception where they could meet and mingle with the students. Students were given specific instructions to engage at least three community members at the event. Students were evaluated on their ability to deliver their “60-second commercial” and engage in and maintain conversation with community members about their career goals, current or past class projects, and other areas of mutual interest.
Each of the nine students who took Success Seminar received a passing grade. Student outcomes three months after the class conclusion varied widely and were as follows:
- Four students earned at least one job offer
- All students attended at least one job interview, many earned several interviews
- Two students developed mentoring relationships with community members they met at the Professional Networking Seminar
- All students attended at least one on-campus event related to career development (including career fairs, and employer meet and greets).
As a co-instructor, I also noticed that at the end of the class, students developed more confidence in describing their career goals, greater familiarity with the job search process, and grew their professional network. Overall, Success Seminar was an effective and efficient service delivery method to help prepare our students for success after graduation. We plan to continue to offer the class in subsequent academic terms, and even have plans to offer an additional section this fall to accommodate student demand.
Bissonnette, B. (2013). The complete guide to getting a job for people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: Philadelphia.
Hawkins, G. (2004). How to find work that works for people with Asperger Syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: Philadelphia.
Henninger, N. A., & Taylor, J. L. (January 2013). Outcomes in adults with autism spectrum disorders: a historical perspective. Autism,17(1), 103-116.
A College Education for Individuals with Autism. (20 June 2013). Retrieved from http://www.aspergersyndrome.org/Articles/A-College-Education-for-Individuals-with-Autism.aspx
Janine Rowe, MSEd., NCC, is a career counselor at The Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services at Rochester Institute of Technology (www.rit.edu/oce) in Rochester, NY. She works with students and alumni who have various disabilities by providing career counseling and planning services and guidance pertaining to specific disability related issues. Previously, she offered behavioral consultant services for special education K-12 classrooms. She holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Education from The State University of New York at Brockport. Contact: 585-475-2301 or Jmroce@rit.edu.
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