Transitioning to employment

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Helping special-needs young adults transition from school to work takes commitment, communication

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High-school and college graduations are exciting milestones for parents of neurotypical young adults. For parents of young adults with disabilities and special needs, however, the accomplishment can lead to anxiety, discomfort and the daunting task of facilitating transitions to the working world.

This uneasiness certainly is well-founded; while everyday transitions for young adults with disabilities and special needs can be challenging, monumental life changes have the potential to be downright cataclysmic. Thankfully, parents don’t have to endure the process alone. The following tips are our inside look at making things easier.

Consider a private job coach

Perhaps the most efficient way to smooth a young adult’s transition from school into the working world is to research state resources available for job coaching and employment services or hire a private job coach who has specific experience working alongside people with disabilities.

Generally speaking, these experts act as liaisons between the young adult, the parents and the employer. Their typical role is to provide coaching on the job, creating supports designed for the young adult’s specific deficits. .In many cases, these coaches also utilize role-playing to prepare the young adults for what they likely will expect in the workplace. A job coach can be utilized in employment and volunteer jobs alike.

“These coaches serve as mentors and social gurus,” says Chris Simler, co-owner of Integrated Behavioral Systems, a consulting firm located in Aurora, Ill. “It’s important for all employees—special needs or not—to understand non-verbal queues in the workplace, and for young adults with special needs, this is particularly where a coach can help.”

Private job coaches can be expensive (though some fees may be deductible) so make sure to research the state resources available.

Investigate employment services programs

bobby_with_cartAnother option for helping young adults with disabilities ease the transition into the work world might be to work with local non-profit organizations that have employment services programs designed to help.

One such program is Community Gatepath’s Employment Services. Young adults work with a job developer to find a job that matches their interests and skills. This process includes assistance with their resume, job applications and Interview Seminars. Interview Seminars teach job seekers with disabilities basic interviewing skills and give them the opportunity to socialize with others with special needs looking for work.

In September 2011, Community Gatepath completed a grant from the California Department of Rehabilitation, Autism Works the resulting project focused on helping young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) autism spectrum disorder (ASD) find work. According to Program Manager Tracey Carrillo Fecher, Autism Works helped 17 young adults make the leap to employment.

“We’ve helped these young adults find their first job” she says, Many of the clients of Autism Works were looking for their first job while attending community college. Once a young adult started a job, the Autism Works job coach used visual supports and social stories to develop stronger social skills on the job. A strong connection between parents/caregivers and the Autism Works team was important to reinforce social issues that came up for the young adults on the job. Fecher tells of one young man who was struggling with social etiquette on the job. The employer, a major grocery chain, has strong customer service expectations for all of their staff. The job coach worked closely with the family to ensure messages about appropriate behavior were reinforced at home.

In 2011, Autism Works placed a handful of young adults with special needs into jobs at the Century Theaters movie theater in San Mateo, Calif. General Manager Mohamed Taki says the relationship has been invaluable.

“It helps to have a program where people are looking out for [special-needs employees] to help them understand the workplace and how it works,” he says, noting that available jobs have included ticket-taker, usher and more. “Learning how they must present themselves and how they must act around customers are important skills, and they’re skills that, in many cases, we don’t have the time to teach.”

Mind the intangibles

anthony_workingRegardless of the methodology parents use to help young adults with disabilities and special needs transition into the work world, experts say the most successful approaches incorporate intangibles such as personalization and communication.

The notion of personalization gets at what motivates certain people to work. Simler, the consultant, recommends that parents demand for pre-employment screenings and assessments to gauge how and where particular individuals can provide the most value. Some programs, such as Autism Works, include these screenings. Other options do not.

“If we put a person in a place where it’s not of their interest, they’re not going to enjoy going to work every day, and ultimately will lose interest,” he explains. “On the other hand, if we get to know the person, if we get to know what their interests and hobbies are, we’re that much more likely to make a fit that lasts and benefits everyone.”

Fecher has seen tremendous social growth in the working young adults with ASD. “I’ve seen clients come out of their shell and gain confidence. Research shows sustained employment for adults with ASD can be challenging. We’ve helped them take their first steps on that journey.”

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