Working in the Community: A Guide for Employers of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Reviewed by Jennifer Hieminga, MEd, BCBA,
New Haven Learning Centre for Children, Toronto CA
As many of us who have worked with adults with autism know, it can be difficult to engage and encourage local businesses to provide supported employment or supported volunteerism opportunities for our adults. The Alpine Learning Group, with support from The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, has formulated a user-friendly, functional and detailed manual that will help professionals in the field of autism engage the employers in a way that will make the relationship between the employer and the employee more productive, effective, and meaningful.
This manual is designed to enhance the experience of employees with autism by educating their employers and co-workers at their job sites. It is also an excellent resource with which to approach potential employers in order to help them understand autism and to inform them of what they may expect if they decide to employ a person with autism spectrum disorders. It is written in user-friendly, simplistic terms, making it easy for a person who has little or no prior background in autism or applied behaviour analysis to grasp the content.
The manual highlights important facts about autism and common challenges that many individuals with autism encounter. The four main areas of difficulty listed include:
- Communication challenges (e.g., employee may use alternative forms of communication such as pictures)
- Receptive language difficulties (e.g., employee may require simple direction)
- Social skills deficits (e.g., employee may not initiate a greeting or provide eye contact)
- Potential challenging behaviours (e.g., due to difficulty communicating the employee may express themselves in other less appropriate ways).
Worth noting is the authors’ use of specific examples related to the work environment, clearly illustrating what it is like to work with a person with autism.
To highlight how an individual with autism learns best, a brief description of Learning Theory (i.e., Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence), as well as strategies such as prompting, prompt fading and task analyses, are provided. In addition, the employer is made aware of common strategies that can be used to enhance job performance such as picture and textual schedules, the use of reinforcement systems, data collection, natural supports and extra practice outside of the work setting. It is noted that these strategies can be implemented with the use of a job coach. Further detail regarding the role of a job coach is provided (e.g., they act as a shad-ow, identify and implement teaching strategies), assuring the employer that their role will be to help successfully integrate their new employee into the workplace, as well as to help co-workers interact with and understand individuals with autism.
Jobs well suited for individuals with autism, such as those which are consistent, repetitious, do not require a lot of social interaction, and those which involve more visual components (e.g., matching, filing, sorting), are noted in this manual. This information enables the employer to better understand, and, in turn, better match jobs to the person with autism’s needs, strengths and preferences—a process referred to as "job carving."
The manual provides practical strategies to promote positive interactions between employees with autism and their co-workers by answering commonly-asked questions, such as:
- How to interact with their colleague
- What to do if their colleague makes an error
- What to do if their colleague exhibits maladaptive behaviour
- How to provide praise and encouragement