Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Workplace

Youth with disabilities face significant challenges as they prepare for the transition from secondary education to adult employment. In Quebec, adults (15-64 years old) with developmental disabilities have the lowest employment rates compared to people with any other type of disability (Deslauriers, 2017). Furthermore, recent data also suggests that the unemployment rate may be higher for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) considering both unemployment, underemployment and lack of employment opportunities (Bennett & Dukes, 2013, Lee & Carter, 2012, Nicholas et al., 2014). At the individual level, poor employment outcomes among adults with ASD negatively impact socioeconomic status, quality of life, and mental health (Scott et al., 2019). 

What does this mean for our students? What can the Work-Oriented Training Path (WOTP) offer students with ASD, and where can we re-examine our practices to reflect evidence-based practice(s)?

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is broadly characterized by impairments in social interaction and deficits in verbal and nonverbal communications, as well as the presence of restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour and interests (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Each person with ASD is unique and has different abilities, symptoms, and deficits. ASD is a complex, life-long condition that not only affects the person with ASD, but their families, caregivers, and community. In Canada, ASD is diagnosed by medical doctors and psychologists using a diagnostic assessment outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (i.e., DSM-5) (NASS, 2018). 

What is the prevalence of ASD in Canada?

The 2018 National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System (NASS) Report states that approximately 1 in 66 children and youth (5-17 years old) are diagnosed with ASD in Canada.

What are some issues facing individuals with ASD when it comes to employment? 

Issues facing individuals with ASD in the workplace include social and pragmatic interaction deficits, unusual and intense interests, repetitive behaviours, sensory issues, and other autism-related symptoms. These issues can create significant barriers to finding and maintaining employment and otherwise restrict their opportunities to excel vocationally (Lee & Carter, 2012, Parr & Hunter, 2014). 

What strengths and abilities do individuals with ASD possess that could be harnessed in the work environment?

The National Autistic Society (2004) noted that some individuals with high functioning ASDs may be particularly attentive to details; be meticulous about rules, accuracy, and routines; be highly reliable, conscientious, persistent, and technically savvy; retain detailed factual knowledge; and evidence excellent long-term memory. Such qualities, if channelled correctly, could allow young people to be successful in jobs that require such skills (e.g., programming, engineering, accounting, library science, mathematics, drafting, journalism, and lab technical tasks) (Gentry et al., 2015, Lee & Carter, 2012, Parr & Hunter, 2014 & Scott et al., 2019)

What specific supports may an individual with ASD need in the work environment? 

  • JOB FIT – When employees’ with ASD preferences were matched to the job tasks, their level of engagement on the task increased (Parr & Hunter, 2014).
    • Career/job counselling
    • Career interest assessments
    • Exploration: tours of local business/industry, job shadowing, tours of schools, career fairs.
  • TRAINING – Based on students’ needs and employment path
    • Social-related skill instruction: 
      • (e.g. The PEERS Curriculum for school-based professionals: Social skills training for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder by Laugeson, E. A., Walker Social Skills Curriculum, Access Program: Adolescent Curriculum for Communication and Effective Social Skills by Hill M. Walker, Scott McConnell, Deborah Holmes, Bonnie Todis.)
    • Employment-related skill instruction:
      • Job search skills
        • Assessing strengths and interests
        • Understanding the labour market
        • Networking
        • Researching companies and jobs
        • Resumes, cover letters and applications
      • Interview skills
        • JobTIPS
        • Before/preparing for the interview
        • Day of the interview
        • After the interview/follow up
      • Transportation-related skills
        • Private or public transit
      • Time management skills
        • Understanding and following a schedule
        • Task training (e.g. video modelling)
      • Problem-solving skills
        • Potential accommodations 
        • Requesting help from a supervisor

  • JOB COACHING – A job coach is an individual who helps people with disabilities learn, perform, and accommodate work duties. A job coach may work one-on-one or in a small group. In addition to working on skills related to performing specific job tasks, a job coach also helps with interpersonal skills necessary in the workplace. Usually a job coach will work with an individual both in and outside of the workplace. Before entering a place of employment, many individuals with ASD can benefit from specific training to help them learn what to expect in the work environment. In this case, the job coach may visit the place of employment to understand the requirements of the job and work environment. The coach will then work with the individual with ASD to prepare. The job coach may also accompany the individual to the work site. This allows the coach to directly observe the abilities of the employee and any areas needing improvement. The employee is able to receive immediate feedback and assistance (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2013).  
  • MEANINGFUL COLLABORATION AND INTERAGENCY INVOLVEMENT – 

Meaningful and ongoing collaboration among informal and formal services/supports provide efficient and effective service delivery. Cultivating strong linkages between students and needed services—as well as among various service providers themselves in a given community—can ensure that the needs and opportunities identified during transition planning are adequately addressed and delivered in coordinated ways (Lee & Carter, 2012, Nicholas et al., 2014).

Click HERE to read An Autistic View Of Employment: Advice, Essays, Stories, and More from Autistic Self Advocates 

How can an employer support students with ASD on the job?

Employers play a vital role in the hiring, retention and advancement of individuals with ASD in the workforce. Inclusion begins with knowledge; employers who understand their employees potential limitations demonstrate their values and show that they respect everyone. Many employers unconsciously carry out a generic approach to disability in the workplace, with a limited knowledge of ASD and the unique needs and accommodations required by this population. 

The following supports have been shown to be successful for individuals with ASD: ASD awareness training for all staff, job coaching, structured and supported work placements, peer-mentoring programs, providing feedback and socializing opportunities (Parr & Hunter, 2014, Nicholas et al., & 2014, Scott et al., 2019).

What are some supports/services available to individuals with ASD who are seeking employment? 

Click HERE to access a list of workplace resources for individuals with ASD.

In Quebec, services for individuals with ASD are organized by region. To learn more about what is available in your region, contact your integrated health and social services centre (CISSS) or your integrated university health and social services centre (CIUSSS). To find their contact information, go to Finding Your CISSS or Your CIUSSS page.

For more resources for help and support, you can also contact the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec (OPHQ) (in French only) provides information, advice, care and support to people with disabilities as well as their families and loved ones. 

References:

Autism Speaks. (2013). Family Services: Employment Toolkit. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/tool-kit/employment-tool-kit 

Bennett, K. D., & Dukes, C. (2013). Employment instruction for secondary students with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of the literature. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 67-75. 

Deslauriers, M. (2017). Les personnes avec incapacité au Québec — Volume 8 : Activité sur le marché du travail. Drummondville, Québec : Office des personnes handicapées du Québec. Repéré à https://www.ophq.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/centre_documentaire/Enquetes/Internes/Portrait_incapacite_Qc_ECI2012_ V08.pdf  

Gentry, T., Kriner, R., Sima, A., McDonough, J., & Wehman, P. (2015). Reducing the need for personal supports among workers with autism using an iPod touch as an assistive technology: Delayed randomized control trial. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 45(3), 669-684.

Lee, G. K., & Carter, E. W. (2012). Preparing Transition‐Age Students with High‐Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders for Meaningful Work. Psychology in the Schools, 49, 988-1000.

Parr, A. D., & Hunter, S. T. (2014). Enhancing work outcomes of employees with autism spectrum disorder through leadership: Leadership for employees with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 18, 545- 554.

Nicholas, D. B., Attridge, M., Zwaigenbaum, L., & Clarke, M. (2014). Vocational support approaches in autism spectrum disorder: A synthesis review of the literature. Autism, 19, 235-245.

Nicholas, D. B., Mitchell, W., Dudley, C., Clarke, M., & Zulla, R. (2018). An ecosystem approach to employment and autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(1), 264-275.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2018). Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children and Youth in Canada 2018: A Report of the National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System. Ottawa. 

Scott, M., Milbourn, B., Falkmer, M., Black, M., Bӧlte, S., Halladay, A., … & Girdler, S. (2019). Factors impacting employment for people with autism spectrum disorder: A scoping review. Autism, 23, 869-901.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (2013). The Role of a Job Coach. Retrieved from: https://www.carautismroadmap.org/the-role-of-a-job-coach/ 

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