Employment Training Program
This program is designed to provide parents of autistic spectrum teens and young adults (hereafter ASD) with the cognitive, emotional, and social competencies needed for material well-being. The term material well-being includes employment, financial security, ownership, food, shelter, and possessions. The philosophy of this program is that teens and young adults with ASD need intensive, developmentally sensitive, and ecologically based experiences created by parents in order to achieve material well-being and, in particular, independence through employment.
This program offers a 16 module training program (10 hours per module) that engages parents in a dynamic and interactive learning process focusing on helping their teen/young adult develop the mental processes required for obtaining and maintaining employment in the 21st century workplace.
The 21st century workplace demands multiple competencies that are most effectively developed through parent mentoring. Rather than outsource employment training to a therapist, job coach, or vocational counsellor, this program empowers parents beginning at the point their child enters middle school to create a learning environment that will maximize their opportunities for employability and overall material well-being.
ASD and Unemployment:
Teens and young adults with ASD face high unemployment and under-employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, in 2010 the proportion of people with disabilities aged 16 to 65 who were working was less than half of that of people without disability, age 16-65 (29% versus 64%). According to U.S Department of Education’s National Longitudinal Transition Study/NLTS (a survey of 11,000 young adults with disabilities ages 15 to 21) in 2009, the percentage of young adults with autism who had a job was nearly half that of all young adults with disabilities (33% versus 59%).
The proportion of young adults with autism who had a job was actually comparable to that of young adults with deaf-blindness or with multiple disabilities -- and far below the proportion of those with blindness, learning disabilities or traumatic brain injuries. Nearly half of employed young adults with autism earned less than $7.25 per hour and nearly half of employed young adults with autism work less than 20 hours a week.
According to the NLTS the average hours worked per week by young adults with autism was 36% lower than that for all young adults with disabilities (23.2 hours versus 35.8 hours). The proportion of employed young adults with autism working full-time (35 hours or more per week) was one third that for all young adults with disabilities who had a (26% versus 71%).
According to Dr. Dawn Hendricks, a leading researcher in the field of ASD and employment from Virginia Commonwealth University (Department of Special Education and Disability Policy), individuals with ASD have “the ability and desire to work,” but face “several obstructions to meaningful employment.” She states that research overwhelmingly demonstrates disappointing employment outcomes for this group, as the significant majority are unemployed and “for those who do have gainful employment, underemployment is common.”
Dr. Hendricks reports post-secondary employment opportunities have traditionally been very limited. She states that “maintaining employment can be difficult for any person, but is particularly complicated for an adolescent or adult with ASD due to their unique communication and social impairments."
Dr. Hendricks reports long-term employment outcomes are “poor for the majority of individuals with autism.” Even for individuals who are considered to be higher functioning, she reports "employment results are appalling." She states "adults experience underemployment, switch jobs frequently, have difficulty adjusting to new job settings, make less money than their counterparts, and are much less likely to be employed than typically developing peers or peers with learning disabilities.
Dr. Hendricks explains little is known about how best to provide support for post-secondary success in large part because the main focus of autism support is on young children. Dr. Hendricks notes that successful employment is the primary aspiration for most people as they enter postsecondary years and this aspiration is no different for teens and young adults with ASD.
Dr. Hendricks’s research suggest that people with ASD have markedly different vocational needs than individuals with other developmental disabilities and present a wide variety of needs and a wide range of abilities and disabilities. In her research she is found that interactional problems play a significant role in the absence of vocational success. She reports that it is common for individuals with autism to have difficulty socializing with supervisors and co-workers, which contributes to poor overall work performance and work retention.
Communication problems are also a significant factor in unemployment and underemployment. Teens and young adults with ASD have difficulty understanding directions, “reading between the lines,” and “reading” facial expressions, body position, and tone of voice.
ASD teens and young adults also have a tendency to ask too many questions when confused at work and have difficulty negotiating personal space. For example, workplace environments require employees to understand “grey area” dynamics – such as when it is and is not appropriate to ask questions (and how many), how close to stand next to customers and a co-workers (6 inches? 18 inches? 36 inches?) and how loud to speak to customers and co-workers?
According to Dr. Hendricks, problems with unemployment and underemployment also include inappropriate hygiene/grooming, problems understanding emotions, and problems understanding opposite sex relationships.
Deficits in cognitive flexibility and executive functioning represent additional factors in unemployment and underemployment. Dr. Hendricks states it is common for teens and young adults with ASD to have problems with time management and organization, acclimating to new job routines, and adapting to changes in work expectations.
Competencies for the 21 century workplace:
According to Dr. Cary Cherniss, professor of Applied Psychology at Rutgers University and co-editor with Daniel Goleman of The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace, today’s workplace requires competencies in self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management. These competencies are critical in:
1) Managing workplace problems in which there are multiple right answers and multiple wrong answers – requiring the ability to choose a “good enough” solution.
2) Working with limited time and resources.
3) Having the capacity to be creative in order to develop and drive innovation.
4) Managing large amounts of rapidly changing information.
5) Motivation and commitment to developing customer loyalty.
6) Demonstrating the ability to collaborate and work with other employees.
7) Having the capacity for emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, and emotional self-control
8) Having the capacity for trustworthiness and conscientiousness.
9) Having the capacity for adaptation, initiative, empathy, service orientation, organizational awareness, conflict management, leadership, communication, and promoting and catalyzing change.
Another way to conceptualize the demands of the 21st century workplace is in terms of a work environment that is uniquely challenging to teens and young adults with ASD precisely because the workplace is constantly changing, uncertain, emotionally charged, and imperfect. Dr. Steven Gutstein (creator of Relationship Development Intervention/RDI) refers to this challenge as learning to manage the “MESSIER world:”
Multiple refers to the way in which workplace goals, roles, and relationships demand the ability to arrive at multiple plans, solutions, and perspectives in real time.
Ever changing refers to the inevitable twists and turns of a typical work day that require ongoing course corrections and changes rather than following a linear path.
Simultaneous refers to the ability to integrate different modes information in real time. Employees need to bring together -- in a simultaneous manner -- different types of information. For example, in the case of communication, employees must be able to simultaneously process verbal and nonverbal communication of customers and coworkers -- as well as bring together various contextual factors (e.g., age, gender, educational background, religion, ethnicity, race, social-emotional characteristics).
Surprising refers to the simple and inevitable dynamic that employment does not unfold in a linear and predictable sequence, but rather constantly presents novel/unexpected demands, roles, and expectations.
Imperfect refers to the workplace requiring employees to successfully complete tasks with limited resources and limited time. Employees are continually confronted with having to use “good enough” problem-solving and must be able to differentially allocate resources.
Emotional refers to employees having to rely on emotions to understand workplace dynamics. Dr. Gutstein argues that how we feel about ourselves, our plans, and relationships play a major role in our actions and behavior. Hence, employees must learn to use their emotions to make a decisions as well as initiate and negotiate course corrections.
Relative refers to interpreting information in relationship to the unique context of each work environment. Rather than view information as being true-false or black-and-white, employees must learn to consider the social, political, emotional, and technological context of their employment setting to make sense of information.
This program focuses on training parents to create learning experiences for their teens/young adults so that they can overcome the cognitive, emotional, and social limitations of ASD and excel in a workplace defined by the acronym of the MESSIER world.