The title ‘coach’ has been used in a multitude of ways and has become somewhat convoluted over time. Coaches are paid to assess the qualities found–or not found–in an individual, and provide expert guidance and instruction to deliver marked improvement across key indicators that somehow demonstrate success. Whether it is a Life Coach, Executive Coach or Sports Coach, a Coach brings great value in learning because they have arrived in a place, most often by way of a combination of education and experience that affords them opportunities to provide appropriate guidance in even the most challenging environments. There are few challenges greater than the job placement process for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and this is where our coaching tips can be of help.
Coaching and Job Placement for Autism Spectrum Disorders
In connection with the broader disability population there have always been difficulties associated with placing persons with disabilities (PWDs) in stable jobs. It is nearly impossible to describe the amount of stigma that hovers over PWDs in almost every work environment. That is not to say that in general, societies’ attitudes towards PWDs have not drastically and positively changed over the past decade, because they certainly have, but there is much work to be done to truly have inclusive workplaces across the country.
Several large employers have disability initiatives that are assisting this movement along, but finding the best location to place PWDs is nearly always in smaller companies where personal connections can be made and lasting relationships cultivated.
The over-generalized pre-job placement story for individuals with ASDs usually goes something like this; Johnny is an intelligent young man that has been in and out of life skills and mainstream classrooms with no less than 50 behavior intervention plans on his record, or to his credit. He has sound functional skills inside of a controlled, or protected environment where sensory components have been curbed to enable the teaching of specific skills. He has also been placed in several job tries–aka situational assessments, work experience placements, volunteer work sites, etc.–where he has been able to, with much effort, relearn the skills he already knows in a more ‘real’ work environment.
He may or may not have been rewarded with food each and every time he works for 1-2 hours where he must take a break after 20 minutes due to his constant anxiety that manifests itself in ways that are inappropriate for the workplace. He has also been accompanied by at least two teachers/therapists/staff members throughout these experiences given the number of his peers that are also gaining work experiences, and their collective needs requiring supervision.
To the credit of all involved parties, Johnny is now graduated and spends the majority of his time at his home. Though no fault is intended here, his support system is presently blaming either themselves or others due to the mind-numbing amount of time he spends with some form of electronic device that allows him to focus on his unique areas of interest.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
It is altogether too familiar a situation to ignore, and this is the part where coaching tips are needed, but regardless of the amount of information that was provided during ARD meetings, transition specialists, and professionals that have been supporting Johnny, the reality of his situation is finally here.
There’s no shortage of family, friends, and others who freely provide the answer to his ‘problem’ but there is seemingly no practical solution available. The reason for this and the manner in which Johnny’s situation can be guided through the next steps is only found through a collaboration of services, many of which are difficult to obtain and can be done by parents and/or guardians if coached properly.
Additionally, if key individuals and programs are identified, effective communication is not only possible, it will result in quality job placement.
Coaching Tips For Job Placement for Individuals with Autism
The following are coaching tips and critical steps toward finding success in job placement. We will continue with Johnny’s hypothetical case.
• Identify an individual that truly knows Johnny well, not the person who will tell you what you want to hear about the situation. Have an honest conversation about the concerns Johnny is faced with and come up with a list of individuals that have not exited his life regardless of the challenging situations through which they have passed with him.
This group becomes the foundation from which to build. Johnny can and should be involved in this process to the greatest extent possible. Any one of these individuals may be deemed best suited for completing the items that follow. Feeling like you have to do everything on your own will not work well, so maximize efficiency by inviting and utilizing his support system. Paid individuals may move into and out of this support system, but a core group remains and is the focus and key for Johnny.
• Regardless of what assessments have been completed in the past, Johnny needs to know a few things; his general interests, his job preferences, and where those two items intersect with an entry level career. There are several professionals out there that will provided complete vocational evaluations at a premium price. These may not be what Johnny needs at all, in fact, you and the members of his support system may already know him so well that no further formal assessments are required. There are almost always former teachers or therapists within this group that can assist this process. Of course, if it is determined that more exploration needs to be done to identify his interests and preferences, finding and paying for these services is an option.
• Once you have identified Johnny’s most preferred, best matched jobs, rely on your social and business networks to contact individuals that may have or know of small businesses that are potentially good for you and Johnny to visit. Choose at least two or three companies to investigate.
It is ideal if you can perform an informal observation of the work environment prior to taking Johnny with you. Using your best judgment, it may be best to conduct this observation unbeknownst to the business, while posing as a potential customer, so brush up on your acting skills. You can of course arrange to do this observation in a more formal manner as well.
Evaluate the business through the sensory lens first, and the work culture second. Do your very best to look for items that you know are ‘deal-breakers’ in either or both categories. Once you determine there are no major concerns, take Johnny with you to the work environment. Write down your impressions and share those with Johnny as you see fit prior to or after you visit the business together.
• You will be unsettled or experience any number of emotions throughout this process, but as much as possible, stay positive yet firm in your expectations for potential employers. Given the number of volunteers that may have worked in any of these locations, from the first formal contact, be confident to resolutely express that Johnny is looking for a paid position if that is indeed the goal. Pay specific attention to the ways in which the hiring manager responds. If he or she seems genuinely open to this possibility, move forward. If not, choose the next business of your top three and start again.
• Once you are satisfied that the environment, its people included, is malleable enough to be adapted to accommodate Johnny, present possible options to the potential employer that carve out a place for him. The employer now has a chance to see how well Johnny works and where he fits into the business.
If there is doubt about hiring him, a particular trial period to try out the job can be worked out. Companies arrange the terms of this trial period, and Johnny may or may not be paid during this time, but generally 20-120 hours of work in four weeks or less is ideal. This is also the time to officially disclose the disability if Johnny chooses to do so, and specify a need for specific accommodations so there is no problem in the future.
More than likely, the employer will appreciate the support provided by outside sources, such as public job coaching services that have been arranged through community rehabilitation providers, or having an aide accompany Johnny as needed.
• Being officially hired is an empowering moment for Johnny and for his family. This will have felt like an already arduous process, but once Johnny is hired there are a few more items to discuss with the employer. Further, open lines of communication that can be initiated by either party to address concerns or answer questions.
Be active and assertive in cultivating this ongoing relationship with the employer, particularly with his immediate supervisor. Differentiate support and accommodations from Johnny’s privacy early on so that when there is an incident, the established relationship will not only handle the situation well, but will preserve his job if possible. Remember that all paid supports work to support Johnny in the best possible way. Discuss all issues with them remembering that you have the choice to retain or release them if they are not meeting your expectations. When you do find individuals that meet your expectations, do all you can to hang onto them.
There may be no perfect workplace in existence for any one of us, but these suggestions will certainly help along the way. A good coach would tell you to buy into the program, go out and practice, prove to yourself that it works, and gain confidence as you prepare for your major competitions. Doing so will only help to improve the quality of the job placement process. It is hard work, but there is almost nothing so rewarding as watching an individual you care deeply about accomplishing something that many have said was not possible. The time and effort dedicated to supporting any person to contribute more fully at his or her highest level in society is time well spent.
Joel C. Johnson is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and serves as the Assistant Community Outreach Director for Including Kids. He has six years experience working with young adults with autism and enjoys the uniqueness of this disability population. Joel worked at Utah State University as an assistant track and field coach for several years and as the coordinator of the EmployAbility clinic for nearly two years, helping to develop a program placing individuals with autism and other disabilities into competitive employment. He understands educational, public, private, for profit, and nonprofit business work environments and cultures. He is dedicated to providing the highest quality services to his clients and their families, and is an advocate for individuals with disabilities to experience full community inclusion.