Job-Related Skills

“My daughter is entering high school next fall,” wrote the parents of a teenager diagnosed with autism. ‘Over the next few years, we are hoping she can learn some basic skills that allow her to get a job. It may be that she would need a job coach in order to be successful, but we are hoping she can learn some skills that allow her to be as independent as possible. What are some job-related skills that help with successful employment?”

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Specific job skills that need attention depend, of course, on the type of job that might be appropriate for your daughter. But no matter the job or the level of assistance she may require, there are five basic categories of skills that are critical for successful employment.
(1) Self-Care. Her options for employment will expand if your daughter is able to take care of her basic needs independently or with minimal assistance i.e. toileting, lunch and snacks, washing hands, and taking care of personal items such as a backpack or nametag.
(2) Focus. Most jobs require that an employee focus on the task at hand. It is also important that a person focuses on the directions given by a boss or supervisor and to focus on any important announcements or on safety drills. But, most importantly, you want to help shape your daughter’s ability to focus on a task for an extended period of time.
(3) Follow. Compliance is another critical skill in employment situations. Your daughter will be much more productive in any job if she can and will follow directions with minimal assistance. If she has deficits in processing verbal instructions, she can be taught to use a visual schedule so employers and job coaches can successfully communicate the information she needs to complete a task or a job sequence. If she is rather strong-willed or uncooperative, you can gradually shape cooperation and a willingness to follow directions and job procedures.
(4) Finish. Even when jobs are broken down into a series of smaller tasks, some individuals with autism are unable to complete those tasks without prompting. Her employment will be much more successful if your daughter can learn to finish tasks or job sequences with less and less prompting from a supervisor or job coach.
(5) Flexible. The nature of autism causes some individuals to be intolerant to changes in routine. Your daughter will have a much more successful job experience if she can learn to be flexible and “go with the flow.”

So, you can take an inventory of your daughter’s strengths and deficits in these five areas, then develop strategies to help gradually shape job-related skills. Your persistence will contribute to her successful employment in the future. We welcome suggestions from our readers about other job-related skills and about strategies that help shape those critical skills.

Note to listeners and readers: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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