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Graduation is one of those moments where students experience an increase in their levels of stress. And that’s no different for young adults with Autism as they often struggle with obtaining and maintaining a job (Shattuck et al., 2012). Even though more and more people are getting diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there is a severe lack of services to support them in adulthood (Gurbuz, Hanley, and Riby, 2019; Shattuck et al., 2020). This leaves many young adults to remain at home, depending on family members, making it harder if not impossible to reach their full potential (Vanuit autisme bekeken (VAB), 2019).

Even though society is becoming more inclusive in the workplace and changes are taking place, a bias still exists (Johnson and Joshi, 2016; Bird and Flint, 2019). Only 47% of adults on the spectrum between 16 and 65 years old have a job and only 20% of those are content with the job they have (Vanuit autisme bekeken (VAB), 2019). This is even though people with autism bring new strengths and talents to the workplace such as creativity, attention to detail, reliability, and honesty (Cannon, 2018).

This article aims to empower autistic young adults with strategies and tips to find and maintain meaningful employment. It is always a good idea to discuss the transition with for example a counselor, coach, family members or peers who are experiencing the same changes as it helps with understanding and preparing for the change.

Step 1: Strength Assessment of your Autism

Many higher educations teach students to reflect, learn about themselves and their talents, and utilize those talents. Upon graduation, students are likely aware of where their strengths and weaknesses lie and what field they would like to get into. Ensure that you understand your strengths and weaknesses before applying for jobs (Dipeolu, Storlie, and Johnson, 2015).

Step 2: Motivation & Enthusiasm for the job

Gather enthusiasm and motivation for the transition from education to the field of work by understanding why you would like to be employed. For example, maybe you would like to get your own apartment or be a part of a company that makes amazing art. Find out where your motivation comes from.

A job is a big change, but it is also a new opportunity for growth. You will likely learn new skills and work with like-minded people. And the other positive benefits of a job is making your own money and having a set structure during the week. Find out where the positives of employment come from for you.

Step 3: Preparation Research of the job

After understanding where your strengths lie and where motivation comes from it is important for the young adult with autism to gain insight into the job market. There are many jobs out there and it could be overwhelming. Talk to people who work in a similar field about their daily work life by asking them about their tasks, structure, and how others have found and gotten the job. This will help narrow down the search.

Good questions to ask are:

  • What is your job like?
  • What does your day look like?
  • What skills do you need for this job?
  • How did you find the job?
  • What do you like/dislike about your job?
  • What are rules in your workplace?

Step 4: The Job Hunt

When you’ve narrowed down the options you can now start the job search, assuming you have your resume ready. Websites such as Linkedin Jobs and Indeed, are great sources for when it comes to finding jobs.  By having prepared for this, and knowing where your talents lie you can now start the search for a job you are passionate about.

Step 5: Job application

After finding the right job, it is time to start applying. Write a motivational letter that fits the job type, and send it in with your resume to the company. Indeed has some great tips on how to write a motivational letter. Now there may be some things that are overwhelming for young adults on the spectrum when it comes to this step. Getting some help to organize this step would be a good idea as potentially there would be phone calls with potential employers and reaching out to your network for employment leads (often the most successful approach to finding a job). Making an excel table (table 1) to keep track of your progress could be a good idea.

Job titleWhen appliedHow appliedContact PersonFollow up dateSkills needed in jobLocation
UX Designer13-08-2021LinkedIn JobsMr. Albertson 26-08-2021Desk research, Prototyping, teamworkGroningen
Table 1 example of a table to keep track of job applications

Step 6: The Job Interview

The job interview potentially could be the most daunting task of the entire process as the autistic young adult will be challenged in the social skills department (Dipeolu, Storlie, and Johnson, 2015). Practicing the job interview with a counselor, coach, family members or peers can be a good method to gain confidence and to be prepared for the interview (Grandin and Duffy, 2008; Chappel and Somers, 2010). These prep interviews can be used to answer typical interview questions such as, “Why did you apply for this job?”, “Why should I hire you and not someone else?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. During the prep interview, practice answering open-ended questions and practicing articulating your interests and passions for the job and why they are a good match for the job (Brown and DiGaldo, 2011).

Besides practicing your interview skills, be sure to do your research on the company and the details of the job (Brown and DiGaldo, 2011).

During most job interviews there will be time left in the end when the interviewer asks if there are any questions from the applying party. This would be the time to ask them about accommodations at work, how the offices are set up (open plan vs cubicles etc.) and what a workday would look like.

Step 7: Disclosing Autism

Disclosing your autism during the interview or refraining from it is up to you, as an employer cannot lawfully ask if a potential employer has a disability. If you do decide to disclose, you do not need to give all the details, only the functional limitations. For example, you may require added breaks, an enclosed cubicle, or be away from ringing phones as much as possible to do your job well (Grandin and Duffy, 2008; Brown and DiGaldo, 2011).

Step 8: Maintaining the job

Accurate preparation, practicing interviews, and understanding the potential job will increase the chances of getting that meaningful job you would like. If you have disclosed your autism during the interview process it might be a good idea to discuss your autism with other employers as well. This will help colleagues understand the autistic adult and possibly become a support network. Asking for a ‘buddy’ during the first few months on the job could also be an option. A buddy is a person you go to for advice or when problems occur.

There are three components to keep in mind to maintain your job; time management, stress management, and medication management (Dipeolu, Storlie, and Johnson, 2015).

8.1 Time management

Time management is not an easy skill for people with autism due to the deficits in executive functioning (de Vries and Geurts, 2015) causing difficulties in meeting deadlines for long-term projects (Roberts, 2010). To help with time management, asking for concrete tasks with shorter deadlines could be an option. A company that works with the agile/scrum methodology might be a good fit as they work in small teams with small and concrete tasks and short-term deadlines.

8.2 Stress management

Emotional control can be difficult for people with autism (Adreon and Durocher, 2007; Jahromi, Bryce, and Swanson, 2013) and could be the reason employment gets terminated (Meyer, 2010). Stress management is a skill that is needed in the workplace. Working together with a job coach or mindfulness coach could help you develop stress management skills to develop emotional control. While in the workplace, try to take the occasional walk, listen to relaxing music and discuss frustrations openly and calmly with the people involved.

8.3 Medication management

Young adults on the spectrum often have comorbid disorders, such as anxiety, ADHD, or depression (Hofvander et al., 2009; Bakker et al., 2019). Comorbidity can cause issues in the workplace and often medication is taken for these. If so, do not neglect your medication intake as it can help with the successful transition to the post-graduate world of work (Grandin and Duffy, 2008).

Other resources

A life coach has been recently proven to be effective when it comes to supporting people with autism spectrum disorder in several aspects of life (van Huis and Bakker, 2021). A life coach can help translate the culture of the workplace, assist with adjustments and help with further growth and development (Grandin and Duffy, 2008; Brown and DiGaldo, 2011; van Huis and Bakker, 2021).

Conclusion

Although the transition from college/higher education to the work field can be challenging (Shattuck et al., 2012), it can be done when you have accurate strategies in place. Making the right preparations and having the right people of advocates around you, such as family, like-minded peers and a life coach can increase your chances of finding and maintaining meaningful employment.

References

Adreon, D. and Durocher, J. S. (2007) ‘Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders’, Intervention in School and Clinic. Sage PublicationsSage CA: Los Angeles, CA, pp. 271–279. DOI: 10.1177/10534512070420050201.

Bakker, T. C. et al. (2019) ‘Background and enrollment characteristics of students with autism in higher education’, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 67(July), p. 101424. DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2019.101424.

Bird, N. and Flint, R. (2019) ‘Autism: People face “daily discrimination” in work – BBC News’, BBC News, 6 September. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-49523283 (Accessed: 13 August 2021).

Brown, J. . and DiGaldo, S. (2011) Post-secondary and career issues faced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Hartford, CT.

Cannon, H. (2018) Autism : the positives, University of Leeds. Available at: https://forstaff.leeds.ac.uk/download/downloads/id/1485/positives_of_autism.

Chappel, S. L. and Somers, B. C. (2010) ‘Employing persons with autism spectrum disorders: A collaborative effort’, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32(2), pp. 117–124. DOI: 10.3233/JVR-2010-0501.

Dipeolu, A. O., Storlie, C. and Johnson, C. (2015) ‘College Students with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Best Practices for Successful Transition to the World of Work’, Journal of College Counseling, 18(2), pp. 175–190. DOI: 10.1002/jocc.12013.

Grandin, T. and Duffy, K. (2008) Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. Autism Asperger Publishing Company. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-009-0819-z.

Gurbuz, E., Hanley, M. and Riby, D. M. (2019) ‘University Students with Autism: The Social and Academic Experiences of University in the UK’, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(2), pp. 617–631. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-018-3741-4.

Hofvander, B. et al. (2009) ‘Psychiatric and psychosocial problems in adults with normal-intelligence autism spectrum disorders’, BMC Psychiatry, 9. DOI: 10.1186/1471-244X-9-35.

van Huis, A. and Bakker, L. (2021) Levensloopbegeleiding VAB werkt!

Jahromi, L. B., Bryce, C. I. and Swanson, J. (2013) ‘The importance of self-regulation for the school and peer engagement of children with high-functioning autism’, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(2), pp. 235–246. DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2012.08.012.

Johnson, T. D., and Joshi, A. (2016) ‘Dark clouds or silver linings? A stigma threat perspective on the implications of an autism diagnosis for workplace well-being’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(3), pp. 430–449. DOI: 10.1037/APL0000058.

Meyer, R. . (2010) Asperger syndrome employment workbook: An employment workbook for adults with Asperger syndrome. London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Roberts, K. D. (2010) ‘Topic Areas to Consider When Planning Transition From High School to Postsecondary Education for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders’:, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1088357610371476, 25(3), pp. 158–162. DOI: 10.1177/1088357610371476.

Shattuck, P. T. et al. (2012) ‘Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder’, Pediatrics, 129(6), pp. 1042–1049. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2864.

Shattuck, P. T. et al. (2020) ‘Services for Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder: a Systems Perspective’, Current Psychiatry Reports, 22(3). DOI: 10.1007/S11920-020-1136-7.

Vanuit autisme bekeken (VAB) (2019) Autisme en Levensloopbegeleiding.

de Vries, M. and Geurts, H. (2015) ‘Influence of Autism Traits and Executive Functioning on Quality of Life in Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder’, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(9), pp. 2734–2743. doi: 10.1007/s10803-015-2438-1.

Image reference

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Odette Jansen

Odette Jansen

Autism Coach | Teacher | Dungeon Delver

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