Specialized Vocational Planning for People with Autism
By LaToya B. Gathers
Autism is a spectrum disorder. Behavioral symptoms or characteristics for autism can be present from mild to severe (Rapin, 2008, p.1129). Often the following terms or labels are used to describe our loved ones: autistic, autistic-like, high-functioning or low-functioning. A person with autism usually has problems interacting, communicating and showing restrictive, repetitive, or ritualistic behaviors, interests and activities. The important point to remember is our loved ones with autism can learn, make progress and may grow up to function productively with an appropriate education, benefits, support and services.
Employment Outcome for Youth without
In terms of employment, only 6% of autistic adults hold paid, full-time jobs. Of children under 13 years old, 31% participated in no social activities at all. Clearly this data shows that not having transitional services puts a burden on the quality of life for adults with autism. Issues such as independence, self-determination, employment, mental health, social support, and meaningful relationships are virtually ignored when planning treatments, assessing treatment outcomes, or evaluating an overall program’s effectiveness (Rapin, 2008, p.1132-1139).
How Counselors Can Help
When teachers or counselors develop the student’s IEP (Individual Education Program) for their student's transitional high school years, one issue that will need to be discussed is vocational training and post school transition plan. The options the parents have in these areas are going to greatly depend on the functional level of the student, their interests and the counselor's resources. For most kids with autism, learning vocational skills can be very helpful for finding post-high school employment. Since they enjoy repetitive work they do well in the technology and in the manufacturing industry. The vocation skill that is selected should be based on what the student is interested in, however, several vocations should still be explored to find the right fit.
Another option that counselors have for finding vocational training for the autistic students is to check out local community college courses and adult learning annexes. These learning institutes provide a lower key educational environment than a university, and provide the child, or young adult, with the opportunity to select from a menu of vocational learning opportunities. They can even earn an Associate Degree or training certificate. Of course, if the child is high functioning and capable of attending a regular university, then they can pursue a degree and a career in a field that interests them.
If the child has a hard time dealing with crowds and uncontrolled learning environments, then they can pursue a degree or a vocational career via an online training or degree program. There are hundreds of online programs to choose from some that are even provided by the country's top state universities and private universities. This is a great option for adults with autism who are interested in advancing their education or training for a career. It tends to be less expensive than traditional colleges and universities and it gives them the chance to control their learning environment.
The final option for the counselor is to recommend the parent to set up their own vocational training program at home. For example, the parent can teach the child how to cook, how to use tools, how to enter data into a computer program or how to operate commonly used computer software. The vocational training that is offered the child at home or via office will depend on the parent’s own skills and capabilities. However, this can be a great way to transition a home schooled autistic child into a profession.
Career Assessment for the Autistic Student
Assessment for the autistic student is educational instruction that occurs in typical community environments and provides students with “real life experiences.” The goal is to provide a variety of hands-on learning opportunities that will allow the student to apply knowledge learned and determine whether further instruction is needed. The following represent examples of career assessment suitable for students with autism.
Careers For Me Junior - Career Assessment for grades K-3 and some special education needs children. The assessment is a bright, colorful 6-panel, consumable folder with a picture for every interest on the assessment. Students circle the pictures which represent what they like to do. Interest level is elementary. This assessment also has individual pages that can translate this English language interest assessment for the use with Spanish speaking youth clients.
Careers for Me SN -. This assessment instrument is designed for special needs students grades 2-5, elementary. It is colorful with lots of pictures.
Careers For Me Junior - CD - ROM - Similar to the print version, students will click on the activities they enjoy (instead of circling the activities). At the end they get a results page with sample careers for all clusters. Students will check careers from all clusters that are of interest to them, and then they are asked to narrow it down to one career. There are print capabilities so the user can take home the results and share them with parents.
SCOIS Elementary– www.scois.net - A career assessment site for elementary to middle school students. There are fewer questions.
Kuder -www.Scpathways.org – this instrument could be used if the student is on the advance end of the autism spectrum.
Vocational training can focus on skill sets and hands-on-learning in a simulated work environment and allows students to develop skills that can be used in the workplace. Classes would prepare the autistic student for a specific trade or career area that emphasizes hands-on learning and the application of knowledge. Having the training provides the students with autonomy and a feeling that they are free to make their own decisions. They are happier and more productive.
Dr. LaToya B. Gathers is a private therapist and government contract worker, for her business Career Works and Counseling. She focuses on rehabilitation behaviors for Autism, Aspergers and ADHD through social needs associated with home-based discrete trial programs and appropriate social skills intervention plans. Dr. Gathers provides a leading series of social skills groups focusing on interaction with typically developing peers and appropriate play skills as well as career training in the rehabilitation program. Contact Dr. Gathers at firstname.lastname@example.org.