It is really important to teach youth with autism spectrum disorder work skills. They need to learn both the responsibility and discipline of doing a job. When I was 13, my mom talked to a local seamstress in my community and got me a summer job. When I was 15, I cleaned horse stalls and took care of eight horses. I was proud of both because the responsibility and recognition I received for doing a good job. My older friends on the spectrum actually did paper routes and they were very successful. The skill a paper route taught was discipline on getting up early and being on time and entrepreneurship.

In most communities paper routes are gone, my theory is why do we not create jobs to teach all youth those same skills. Parents and teachers need to “get creative” and create these jobs in their local community where young people live and learn. Below are some examples of subsitutes for paper route jobs:

  1. Walking dogs for neighbors
  2. Maintaining a website for a church or community group
  3. Fixing computers for local businesses in the community
  4. Helping an elderly person with shopping

College and Networking

There are some students on the autism spectrum for whom college is the right choice and for others a trade or a technical school would be more appropriate. If an individual with ASD is attending college, it would be great for that student to have an internship that is relevant to their career goal. When I was in college, I interned one summer at a research lab, and rented my own house that I shared with another student. Both my mother and one of the faculty members at Franklin Pierce College helped me with the process as I began to figure out how a college environment works. Many great opportunities arrived through the back door or what many may call networking. Networking is key to getting your name and face out in the community, especially if you are a poor interviewer because of anxiety. I get asked all the time about how to do with doing poorly at an interview. My advice is to try to avoid them and to sell yourself by showing a portfolio of work you have done in the past and network by building relationships in your community.

Finding the Right Career

I have always said, “You have to show kids interesting things to get them interested in interesting things.” A mechanic might be an avenue to get a teenager interested in fixing cars and a next door neighbor may be willing to introduce youth to computer programming. In my book, The Autistic Brain, I discuss choosing careers that use a child’s strength. Below is a list of possible careers for different types of thinkers.

Visual Thinkers – These are the students who may be good at art and building. The following are examples of some careers for these students: architect; animation; drafting and drawing; photographer, auto mechanic, elevator mechanic, fine artist; industrial design; skilled trades; and theater lighting.

Math Thinkers – These are students who are good at math. The following are some careers for these students: computer programming; engineering; Physics; chemistry; musician; actuary; debugging and testing computer programs.

Word Thinkers – These are students who often excel in writing or detailed knowledge. The following careers may be good for these students: journalism; retail; teaching; and accounting.

Also, for individuals who are more significantly impacted by autism, here are a few examples of possible career opportunities:  sorting experts (recycling, bagging, or coding small electronic parts, sorting documents); delivery (within a hospital or hotel); hospitality; or animal lovers (basic pet car or clinic assistant).

The moral of the story is that we have to focus on the strengths of our youth with autism. We must not accommodate just their strengths so their dreams can come true.

Dr. Temple Grandin is one of the most well-known adults with autism in the world. She is an animal scientist, professor and autism activist.  The following article first appeared in the Autism Advocate Magazine, Spring 2013 edition. Edited for brevity.