Vocational Implications of Autism: Challenges & Strategies for Success

Instructor: Pamela Brezenski

Pamela holds a M.S. in Special Education and is ABD EdD Special Education. Pamela has experience in the following settings: 6th LA/SS, 9-10th LD/ED, K-12 and K-5 LD/ED/ID

The goal for all students is to work in their community. Mastering the skills of working is a difficult task for students diagnosed with Autism. Helping students overcome barriers is critical to vocational success.

Autism and Employment

Employment is important to student success. Living and working in one's community is a natural progression for young adults. Students diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum have the same dreams as their peers. For this group of students, working in their community may not be a reality without support for skill attainment.

Concerns With Vocational Outcomes

The National Autism Indicators Report reported that only 58% of youth diagnosed with Autism worked compared to 80% or 90% of other students diagnosed in mild disability categories. 42% of students were not paid for the employment. Students not only worked at lower rates, but they also earned less than other students with mild disabilities.

On a positive note, these statistics drastically change the further students get from high school. Students have more success the longer students are out of school. They learn to overcome the barriers through support and educational opportunities. Teachers can support them by helping connect their strengths and interests, so they overcome workplace barriers.

Barriers to Meaningful Vocational Opportunities

Employers are not always prepared to support students. Students struggle with social elements and communication skills. This can affect relationships between the student, superiors, and co-workers. Customer service can also be an area of concern.

Connecting Students to Preferred Employment

Information provided by Autism Speaks showed that youth on the Autism Spectrum want to work in industries of interest. Connecting students to preferred employment is critical to success. All too often the focus on finding jobs for young people is only to get them experience. Students are not always assessed to find out their interests or asked about their desires.

You can help break down barriers by performing transition assessments. Using career assessments and interest checklists, you can identify the types of jobs students are interested in. Working hard to match those interests with job placements is critical in developing strong experiences.

Transportation Concerns

Many students diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum do not apply for driver's tests. Some meet medical requirements and are not eligible. Without a driver's license, access to employment is limited.

Public transportation is an option, but students often have sensory concerns that limit their ability to use it. Social elements and proximity concerns make using public transportation overwhelming for students.

The inability to have access to public transportation can reduce the opportunity for long-term employment. You can make a difference by creating opportunities to practice using transportation. Teaching self-regulation skills for use in stressful situations will help them adapt.

Employment Preparation and Education

Many students do not maintain skills to keep a job. Using positive employment preparation and education methods can help to reduce barriers. Many students lose jobs because of a lack of social skills or misunderstanding of the hidden rules. Not only are hidden rules of jobs a concern, but the actual job skills must be directly taught.

If you do not prepare youth for the culture of the business, they may not know how to handle situations. Ineffective management of situations can negatively impact employer satisfaction in employee performance.

Job Support Strategies


Direct instruction, modeling, and supported teaching can provide students skills to overcome barriers. Teaching student's self-advocacy skills can help them when needed. You can provide support in job skills, communication and social skills, and self-management strategies.

Job Specific Tasks

Teaching the skills of the job can have benefits for your students. Students diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum feel a great deal of anxiety with new tasks. Using direct teaching methods of skills can help reduce concerns.

Communication and Social Skills

One of the greatest challenges for your students is communicating with bosses and co-workers. Teaching students scripted conversations and responses greatly reduces negative interactions. Additionally, you can use practice positive conversations and social interactions by using modeling and role-playing strategies. Preparing students and helping them create a communication tool-box is the key to success.


Struggles in executive functioning can cause serious problems with attendance and time effectiveness on the job. Helping your students use technology to set alarms and reminders may help reduce this barrier. Using task lists and priority lists may also help to keep students organized.

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