There is increasing interest in helping talented individuals on the Autism Spectrum become more fully engaged in the typical world of work, and establish true independence and self-sufficiency. Autism Speaks has promoted a tool kit for employers, adults on the spectrum and their families, to think about these issues. However, individuals need more experiential opportunities to develop, generalize and maintain the skills to succeed at work and flourish in life.
Raul Jimenez and Amy Greenberg of New Frontiers in Learning stated, “As future employers continue to become educated on disability in the workplace, vocational advocates and coaches can provide a crucial and highly empowering service in aiding, organizing and acclimating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) to the world of work (Autism Spectrum News).” That model is exactly what inspired Life and Career coach, Debra Solomon, to start Spectrum Strategies, a coaching service designed to help young adults create a road map for a successful future. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, in 2013, a reported 53.4% of young adults with ASD have ever worked for pay within the first eight years after graduating high school. Through a four-series workshop, Spectrum Strategies provides these individuals with the tools and guidance necessary to help them create their own road map to a successful and autonomous future.
The workshop is for men and women, ages 18 to 30, and includes both personal and professional training, with a focus on four key strategies for life; A Typical Day in Your Life, Making Your Life More Productive, Managing Your Life and Fit for Life. Each module will be for a period of three weeks.
Developing confidence in any one area of life will lead to confidence and success in another. As stated by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “When children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society experience lifelong benefits. These skills are crucial for learning and development. They also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families.” Participants of the workshop practice these skills in an environment that will both improve and promote positive results in their personal, academic and professional lives.
To help establish this desired level of social confidence, each training session begins with an activity that connects with the particular lesson of that module. For example, as many are often hesitant to share their thoughts aloud, participants anonymously submit the challenges they have experienced. The group then works together to address these key areas of function.
The first module, A Typical Day in Your Life, works with participants to develop time management and organizational skills to outline daily responsibilities and improve overall productivity. Attendees write down a typical day in their lives and work together to organize each day, and brainstorm areas for improvement. For example, by going to bed earlier each night, and waking up at an appropriate time each morning, participants establish a concrete foundation for a more productive day. Such enables the group to develop the necessary time management and organizational skills, and carry-on these tools into their everyday lives, even as daily responsibilities may change.
As part of Making Your Life More Productive, participants identify future goals whether they are to attend college, or be hired for a job. The module helps to discover areas of strengths and challenges, as well as areas of interests to better leverage their abilities, and improve the necessary skills to achieve their goals. For example, those wishing to attend post-graduate education practice the application process, and work to establish a potential major, or trade. Those looking for employment learn the steps needed to complete a job application and resume. Participants then engage in role-playing during which, they are asked typical interview questions, which develop key interview skills. Appropriate dress, eye contact, body language and verbal communication are all addressed.
Managing Your Life is a module in which the group discusses the topic of budgeting. Whether a person lives on their own, or as part of a family, they need to practice how to shop, how to pay and how to budget. The group learns how to write a check, manage income and pay bills. By filling out a budget sheet, participants track their income, track their expenses such as food, clothes, bills and leisure, and also keep records of their spending. They learn to understand their fixed expenses and utilize key resources for saving money.
The fourth and final module is Fit for Life, which integrates the combined skills of time management, organization, career and finance into each participant’s every day. Individuals create a handbook that outlines a customized plan utilizing their skills for their own paths to success. For example, as one is hired and given more responsibility, their handbook acts as a guide and reminds them of the importance of establishing a routine for better life control. As a frame of reference for continuous success, individuals take the results of these experiences and remain empowered in their everyday lives beyond the Spectrum Strategies Workshop.
Debra Solomon is a New York University certified Life and Career Coach, who helps her clients discover the personal and professional goals that best match their interests and abilities. When someone in her own family was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Debra learned first-hand what it meant to guide someone through life’s challenges and how important the right team of professionals can be in achieving success. Today, she utilizes her past experiences to help her clients realize their potential and develop the executive function skills needed in order to succeed in their personal lives, as well as in the professional workplace. She believes that collaboration and involvement in group interventions are essential for this development.
Executive Function. (2014, January 1). Retrieved December 15, 2014, from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/executive_function
Jimenez II, R., & Greenberg, A. (2014, April 1). Identifying Employment Opportunities and Providing Support. Autism Spectrum News.
Roux, A., Shattuck, P., Cooper, B., Anderson, K., Wagner, M., & Narendorf, S. (2013). Postsecondary Employment Experiences Among Young Adults With an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 52(9), 931-939.