- What help can the new worker get when (s)he starts a job?
- What are Natural Supports, and how are they used?
- How would job coaching work?
- How can job accommodations and assistive technology help?
Once the job is found, the focus will shift to making a smooth adjustment and having a successful long-term experience. There are new job duties to learn, certain rules and responsibilities to understand, and a new work environment to get accustomed to.
The most important help is from the worker’s supervisors and coworkers. Make sure to ask about how training for the new job will happen, and who will help if there are questions. Workers with disabilities, including ASD, may also get Job Coaching assistance from a community rehabilitation provider when they start a job. Natural Supports, Accommodations, and Assistive Technology are other tools that can be very helpful in the world of work.
Natural supports refer to assistance that is typically available to all employees at any given workplace. These can include a company’s Orientation and Training Program, or a company’s Employee Assistance Program or other HR resource. But, we often think about natural supports in terms of personal support from supervisors, coworkers, and other employees at the worksite. Some employers now match up all new workers with a “mentor” (co-worker) to help them learn the ropes. Natural interactions are important to the success of any job, especially at the beginning. Every job has its own culture and customs, and newcomers will not know them.
- When are coffee breaks?
- Is there a holiday party?
- Are visitors allowed at work?
Identifying and using natural supports will help with learning the job and feeling comfortable at a new place of employment. Workplace inclusion and “fitting in” at the job is as important to career success and satisfaction as performing job duties well. Making the most of natural supports can help meet employer’s expectations at the start, and throughout the employment experience.
- If finding the job involved previous networking from within the company, a natural support is already there! The worker can determine potential natural supports as he or she meets and connects with new people. Be polite and clear in letting these supports know how they can be helpful.
- VR counselors (link), and employment provider staff (link) can participate in discussions to help the worker consider how new relationships and the work environment can help with employment success.
This book discusses how workplace culture directly determines the success of workers with disabilities and the employment professionals who support them. For more information and to purchase: Coffee Breaks and Birthday Cakes: Evaluating Workplace Cultures to Develop Natural Supports for Employees with Disabilities.
Job coaching refers to services that provide support to persons with disabilities at their jobs. These services are usually provided through a Community Rehabilitation Provider, and funded by a State Disability Agency (link). Services are customized to meet the needs of the employee and the employer. Coaching activities may include:
- Assessment and skill training to supplement what the employer offers,
- Development and facilitation of natural supports, in order to assist the worker to understand the work culture, connect with coworkers and supervisors, and feel included in the workplace,
- Because employees with ASD can experience significant communication and social challenges, the job coach may spend time and attention helping supervisors and coworkers to get to know and understand how the individual works best,
- Counseling around disclosure (link),
- Identification and implementation of workplace accommodations (link to Accommodation info in next paragraph),
- Regular follow along check-ins and consultation to employee and employer around work issues, or problems.
Job coaching support may take place directly at the job site and/or by meeting outside of work to discuss job progress and make plans to resolve any problems or concerns. The presence of the job coach is typically faded out as the employee becomes more self-sufficient in the workplace. It is possible for long-term funding to stay in place to allow for continued monitoring of progress and step-up of supports as necessary. (link to Employment Svc. System section)
Accommodations, including assistive technology can be essential to successful employment for individuals with ASD. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities in order to perform the essential functions of a job.
A job accommodation is a change made to a job or to the work environment that allows the worker to do the main job tasks or that makes the job easier to complete. Job accommodations include a wide range of options and depend on individual circumstances. Just a few types of accommodations include specialized computer software; a change in work schedule; materials in alternate format; personal assistance with a task; a building modification; or a job reassignment.
Here are some examples of possible accommodations for workers with autism:
- Modifying the work area by clearing clutter or adding dividers that block out distractions
- Employer allowing short breaks when worker shows signs of anxiety
- Reduction of sensitivity by replacing fluorescent tubes with compact fluorescent lights
- Utilizing communication scripts to help engage in small talk or respond to difficult situations
- A supervisor or co-worker acting as a “translator” to bridge communication between the worker and others, in order to clarify messages and prevent misunderstanding
- A Velcro picture board where tasks that change by the day can be reordered and discussed.
- Discussing changes in routine or personnel in advance
Assistive technology is a type of accommodation consisting of a tangible item, device, or piece of equipment that enables a person to perform a task. These items can range from relatively simple (low tech) such as a phone with large keys or amplified volume – to highly sophisticated technology such as specialized computer equipment and mechanical devices available from specialized vendors. Two categories of assistive technology are especially relevant to many individuals with ASD:
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to systems that can be used instead of speech or to augment existing forms of communication. Some communicate by pointing to pictures, symbols, and words. Other systems involve computer-generated devices with voice output, along with the option to pre-program messages in advance. An AAC system at work should allow for communication related to job responsibilities and participation in the social life of the workplace. For more information about AAC devices, visit the following websites:
- Visual Organizers and Schedules are among supports that have been found most effective for people with ASD. The introduction of a concrete visual prompt may make the difference between success and failure at a job. Resources in this category are available in many forms, ranging from datebooks, picture cards and task lists – to various technical formats now universally accessible. Computer software, personal digital assistants (PDA’s), and cell phones with numerous apps are plentiful in today’s market. There has been specific attention drawn to the use of IPhone and IPad as an accommodation for workers with autism. Video has added value to this mode of support. The following are websites showing an array of resources on this topic:
Many accommodations are inexpensive or cost nothing at all. The employee is responsible for requesting an accommodation. It is helpful to be able to explain to the employer exactly what is needed and how to make the necessary arrangements, etc. The following publication provides helpful guidance in this situation:
- Employee’s Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations
- The Job Accommodation Network website hosts comprehensive information about workplace accommodations and the ADA
- AbleData provides information and examples of a variety of assistive technology products and rehabilitation equipment