- Supporting Students with Asperger's Syndrome Who Present Behavioral Challenges
- A Brief Explanation of Discrete Trial Training
- Applied Behavior Analysis: A Focus on Outcomes
- A Challenge to Reframe our Thinking About Behavior
- Concerning Consequences: What Do I Do When...?
- Consequences, Behavior, and My Birds
- Don't Forget About Self Management
- Ever Had a Crisis Kind of Day?
- Movement Difference: A Closer Look at the Possibilities
- Movement Differences Among Some People with Autism: an Impetus to Re-Examine Behavioral Issues
- Observing Behavior Using A-B-C Data
- Positive Behavior Supports Creating Meaningful Life Options for People with ASD
- Ten Steps Towards Supporting Appropriate Behavior
- The Challenge of Combining Competing Input in the Classroom
- "Your Attitude Just Might Be My Biggest Barrier"
- Applied Behavior Analysis: The Role of Task Analysis and Chaining
- Tips for Choosing a Provider for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
- What to Consider When Looking for a Qualified ABA Provider
- Assessment Day: Questions About the Communication Development of Your Young Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
- “If They Could Only Tell Me What They Are Thinking.” The Need for Augmentative Communication for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Aiding Comprehension of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders During One-on-One Interactions
- Can Social Pragmatic Skills Be Tested?
- Comprehension of the Message: Important Considerations for Following Directions
- First Steps and the Journey to a Diagnosis of ASD for a Child under Three
- Functional Categories of Delayed Echolalia
- Functional Categories of Immediate Echolalia
- Initial Guidelines for Developing a Communication Intervention Plan for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Significant Limitations in Communication Ability
- Long and Short Term Strategies for Reducing Specific Repetitive Questions
- Successfully Using PECS with Children with ASD
- Meeting the Challenge of Social Pragmatics with Students on the Autism Spectrum
- Opportunity to Communicate: A Crucial Aspect of Fostering Communication Development
- Reading with Your School-Age Child: Building Vocabulary One Word at a Time
- Social Communication and Language Characteristics Associated with High Functioning, Verbal Children and Adults with ASD
- The 21st Century Speech Language Pathologist and Integrated Services in Classrooms
- The High Functioning Person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: A "Tourist" in His Native Country
- The Role of the School Speech Language Pathologist and the Student with Autism
- Using a Visual Support to Enhance WH Question
- Visual Resources for Enhancing Communication for Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Disabilities
- Visual Schedules and Choice Boards: Avoid Misinterpretation of their Primary Functions
- Visual Supports: Sources for Symbols for Receptive and Expressive Communication
- What is the Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS?
- Articles - Communication
- Articles - Communication
- Articles - Communication
- Articles - Communication
- Articles - Communication
- Articles - Communication
- Articles - Communication
- PICO - A Decision Making Tool For Selecting Apps
- Helping Your Child to Develop Communication Skills
- Evidence-Based Practices for Effective Communication and Social Intervention
- Important Predictors
- The Use of Technology in Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Collaborative Teaming
- Educational Programming
- Academic Supports for College Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Advice from Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Teachers Regarding Literacy Instruction
- Advice for Peer Tutors
- Applying the Ziggurat and CAPS Model in Your School District
- Aspects of Support for Learning
- A Young Adult's Guide to Deep Breathing as a Relaxation Technique: A Personalized Fact Sheet
- Can Schedule Usage Training Include Elements of Literacy Instruction?
- Clean Up Your Act! Creating an Organized Classroom Environment for Students on the Spectrum.
- Change is Good! Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum when Introducing Novelty
- Classroom Choreography: The Art of Scheduling Staff and Students
- Complexities of Instructional Support
- Creating a Circle of Support
- Critical Features of Early Intervention: Merging Best Practices
- Developing Long Term Relationships Between School and Parents
- Early Intervention for Young Children on the Autism spectrum: Parent’s Perspective
- Educating Students with Autism: Are There Differences in Placement?
- Establishing Long Term Goals: What Are We Hoping to Achieve
- For General Education Teachers: Helpful Questions to Ask About Students with ASD
- Get Engaged: Designing Instructional Activities to Help Students Stay On-Task
- "Ham It Up and Get It Cookin!!" Thoughts From Dr. Greenspan
- Home-School Communication
- "I Can Do It Myself!" Using Work Systems to Build Independence in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- “I Wake Up for MY Dream!” Personal Futures Planning Circles of Support, MAPS and PATH
- Life After High School...So Now What
- Literacy Resources
- Lovaas Revisited: Should We Have Ever Left?
- Making the Most of Morning Meeting
- Motivating Students Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Moving from Preschool to Kindergarten: Planning for a Successful Transition and New Relationships
- Peer Support Programs
- Promoting the Educational Success of Students with Autism: The Role of the Parent-Staff Relationship
- Planning for Successful Transitions Across Grade Levels
- Practical Steps to Writing Individualized Education Program (IEP) Goals: And Writing Them Well
- Practical Recommendations for Utilizing a Range of Instructional Approaches in General Education Settings
- Recognizing Different Types of Readers with ASD
- Reframing Our Thinking and Getting to Know the Child
- Restricted Repertoires in Autism and What We Can Do About It
- School Cultures that Support Students Across the Autism Spectrum
- Service Learning: Something to Think About
- Supporting Staff Using Coaching Model
- Supporting Students with Asperger's Syndrome
- Teaching Students Who Are Low-Functioning: Who Are They and What Should We Teach?
- Theory of Mind in Autism: Development, Implications, and Intervention
- There is No Place Called Inclusion
- The Road to Post-Secondary Education: Questions to Consider
- Tips for Teaching High-Functioning People with Autism
- Tips to Consider When Including a Student with ASD in Art, Music, or Physical Education
- Transition: Preparing for a Lifetime
- Transition to Middle School
- Transition Time: Helping Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Move Successfully from One Activity to Another
- Understanding the Design and Power of a Personal Schedule
- Using Visual Schedules: A Guide for Parents
- Who Are We Working for Anyway? Avoiding Personal Agendas at Meetings to Better Support Individuals Across the Autism Spectrum
- Structured Teaching Strategies: A Series
- Growing Up Together
- How to Open A Combination Lock/Locker
- Supporting Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders Through Postsecondary Transition
- Curriculum Materials and Programs for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
- Implementation and Effectiveness of Using Video Self-Modeling with Students with ASD
- Video Self-Modeling How To and Examples
- Advocates: Qualities to Look for and Choosing the Correct One for YOU
- Considering an Overnight Camp Program for your Child on the Autism Spectrum?
- Finding or Starting a Support Group
- Making the Most of the Holidays for Your Family and Your Son/Daughter on the Autism Spectrum
- Selected Bibliography for Families of People within the Autism Spectrum
- Selected National Resources for Information on Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Selected Resources for Understanding and Supporting Siblings
- Setting the Stage for Parent-Professional Collaboration
- Siblings Perspectives: Some Guidelines for Parents
- What About the Dads?
- When Your Child is Diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
- What to Do If You Suspect Your Son/Daughter Might Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder
- For Parents: Preparing for the School Year
- Self Help/Medical
- Teaching a Young Man to Shave
- An Introduction to Possible Biomedical Causes and Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders
- The "M" Word
- Mealtime and Children on the Autism Spectrum: Beyond Picky, Fussy, and Fads
- Good Night, Sleep Tight, and Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite:
- Taking Your Son/Daughter with an Autism Spectrum Disorder to the Dentist
- Teaching a Young Woman to Shave
- Anxiety and Panic Struggles
- Anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Having THE Talk with Your Child with ASD
- General Information
- Assessment Processes for Autism Spectrum Disorders: Purpose and Procedures
- Autism Awareness Month: Facts and Tips for Working with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
- Diagnostic Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Diagnostic Criteria for Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder
- Disability Information for Someone who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Customized Example
- Getting Started: Introducing Your Child to His or Her Diagnosis of Autism or Asperger Syndrome
- Increasing Incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders Continues in Indiana
- Standardized Tests and Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Article 7, Title 511
- What’s in a Name: Our Only Label Should Be Our Name: Avoiding the Stereotypes
- For Physicians: Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders and Working with Schools
- Behavioral Issues and the Use of Social Stories
- How to “Lose the Training Wheels:” A New Way to Teach Bicycle Riding
- Living in Fear: Anxiety in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Local Community Resources to Enhance Activities
- Making (and Keeping) Friends: A Model for Social Skills Instruction
- Making Camps Accessible for All
- Play in the Lives of Young Children with Autism
- Play Time: An Examination Of Play Intervention Strategies for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Social Activity Groups: Another Approach for Helping to Bridge the Friendship Gap
- Teaching Social Skills through Theatre
- The Collective Outcomes of School-Based Social Skill Interventions for Children on the Autism Spectrum
- The Value of Movement Activities for Young Children
- We All Need Exercise
- Finding a Friend in School
- Bullying and Students on the Autism Spectrum
- Incorporating Typical Peers Into the Social Learning of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Articles by Temple Grandin
- An Inside View of Autism
- Choosing the Right Job for People with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome
- Evaluating the Effects of Medication
- Genius May Be an Abnormality: Educating Students with Asperger's Syndrome, or High Functioning Autism
- Making the Transition from the World of School into the World of Work
- Social Problems: Understanding Emotions and Developing Talents
- Teaching Tips for Children and Adults with Autism
Making the Transition from the World of School into the World of Work
Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
During my travels to many autism conferences I have observed many sad cases of people with autism who have successfully completed high school or college but have been unable to make the transition into the world of work. Some have become perpetual students because they thrive on the intellectual stimulation of college. For many able people with autism college years were their happiest (Szatmari et al., 1989).
I would like to stress the importance of a gradual transition from an educational setting into a career. I made the transition gradually. My present career of designing livestock facilities is based on an old childhood fixation. I used that fixation to motivate me to become an expert on cattle handling. Equipment I have designed is in all the major meat plants. I have also stimulated the meat industry to recognize the importance of humane treatment of livestock. While I was in college I started visiting local feedlots and meat packing plants. This enabled me to learn about the industry.
Many successful people with autism have turned an old fixation into the basis of a career. I was lucky to find Tom Rohrer, the manager of the local Swift Meat Packing plant, and Ted Gilbert, the Manager of the Red River Feedlot (John Wayne's feedlot). They allowed me to visit their operations every week. They recognized my talents and tolerated my eccentricities. These people served as important mentors. Educators who work with autistic students need to find these people in the business community. I finished up at Arizona State University with a Master's Thesis on cattle handling and chute design. At the same time I did some freelance writing for the Arizona Farmer Ranchman Magazine. This enabled me to further learn about the livestock industry and develop expertise.
My next step was to get hired for my first job at a large feedlot construction company. Emil Winnisky, the construction manager, recognized my talents in design. He also served as a third important mentor to force me to conform to a few social rules. He had his secretaries take me out to buy better clothes. At the time I really resented this, but today I realize that he did me a great favor. He also told me bluntly that I had to do certain grooming niceties such as wearing deodorant. I had to change. I was most interested to read this passage in one of Kanner's papers about people with autism that make a successful adaptation: "Unlike most other autistic children they become uneasily aware of their peculiarities and they begin to make a conscious effort to do something about them." (Kanner et al. 1972).
Emil was an eccentric guy himself and that may explain why he hired me. About six months after I was hired, Emil was fired. I continued to work for about a year, and I quit because I was asked to participate in some highly questionable business practices. While I was at the construction company I learned drafting from Davy, their wonderful draftsman. Davy and I got along, he was a shy loner who drew the most beautiful drawings. From contacts I made at the construction company I started doing freelance design work. I started my independent consulting and design business one job at a time. People respect talent, and I soon developed a reputation for being an expert. While I was slowly building up my business I had enough financial resources so I did not have to take a job at McDonald's to pay the bills.
The freelance route has enabled people with autism to be successful and exploit their talent area. Computer programming is often a good area. To get the business started people with autism need someone to help them get some of their initial jobs. A freelance business also helps avoid some of the social problems with a job in one place. I can go in, do the design job, and then get out before I get involved in a social situation where I could get into trouble. Other freelance businesses which can work well for people with autism are piano tuner, motor repair, and graphic arts. These jobs all make use of skills that many people with autism have, such as perfect pitch, mechanical ability and artistic talent.
Lack of Social Understanding
I soon developed a reputation in Arizona for being an expert in my field, but I got into trouble socially. I caused a big bunch of trouble for Tom Rohrer, Manager of the Swift plant. I did not understand that people have egos, and that protecting their egos was often more important than loyalty to the company. I naively believed that all Swift employees would always act in the best interests of their employer. I assumed that if I was loyal and always worked for the good of Swift's, I would be rewarded. The other engineers resented me. They sometimes installed equipment wrong, and they never consulted me. They did not like this "nerd" telling them how to do it. Technically, I was right but socially wrong.
I caused trouble for Tom Rohrer after I wrote a letter to the President of Swift about a bad equipment installation which caused cattle to suffer. The President was embarrassed that I had found a fault in his operation. I thought he would be pleased if I informed him of the mistake, instead he felt threatened and told Tom to get rid of me. Fortunately, Tom did not kick me out.
Over the years I have learned to be more tactful and diplomatic. I have learned to never go over the head of the person that hired me unless I have their permission. From past experiences, I have learned to avoid situations where I could be exploited or my employers might feel threatened. I learned diplomacy by reading about international negotiations and using them as models.
Getting in trouble over the social aspects of work is a problem area for many people with autism. Learning the work part of the job is easy. Many people with autism expect all people to be good. It is a rude awakening to learn that some people are bad, and they may try to exploit them. This is a lesson that an independent person with autism must learn. For people with autism who take lower level manufacturing jobs, the other employees should be involved and trained to help the person. The co-workers need to be trained to understand autism. A higher functioning person with autism can avoid trouble by keeping his mind on his work. One man worked for five years in a lab, and his employer was happy with his work. One day he got into trouble when he went drinking with the guys and got fired. He would have been better off if he had declined. To avoid problems, I keep my contacts with clients in the technical department. Attempting to date or flirt with people in my client's work places would cause many problems, so I just don't do it.
Autism Follow-Up Studies
There have been two major studies on the follow up of adults with autism who have made a satisfactory adjustment. Szatmari et al. (1989) described six high functioning adults who graduated from college and were able to live independently. One of those people became a perpetual student, and the other five have jobs. There is a tendency for people with autism to become perpetual students because they like the stimulating but structured college setting.
Two of the people in Szatmari's study became salesmen and two worked in a library. The fifth person became a physics tutor. Physics tutor would be a good job to do on a freelance basis. People with autism are often good at teaching others in their areas of special skills. Jason Utley from Kentucky mastered the skills to become an Eagle Scout, and the other scouts liked him because he teaches them to tie knots. Teaching and being a salesman involve social interaction but it is often one-way interaction where the person with autism gets to talk about his area of interest. It does not require a complex understanding of social relations.
Kanner et al. (1972) followed up nine high functioning cases where a good adjustment had been made. Five of these people had jobs. The jobs were bank teller, lab chemist, blue collar Agricultural Experiment Station worker, accountant, and library page. One of these people bounced from job to job due to social problems. The job placements that were successful did not involve complex social interactions. A bank teller's interactions can be routine and stereotyped.
The person who became the lab chemist originally had a nursing job. This job was a disaster because she did not know how to be flexible. She learned from the nursing text book that mothers should nurse their babies for only 20 minutes. When she abruptly took the babies away from the mothers in the obstetrics ward they became angry. She could not understand why. When she switched to the chemistry lab, she was appreciated for her knowledge of chemistry. The person who is now an accountant got dismissed from a previous job after he was promoted to a supervisory position. I heard about another sad case where a man with autism had been a successful draftsman for many years in an architectural firm. When he was promoted and had to be involved with clients he was fired. He should have been left working on his drawing board.
In summary, a person with autism can make a successful transition into a job or career.
- Gradual Transitions - Work should be started for short periods while the person is still in school.
- Supportive Employers - Parents and educators need to find employers who will be willing to work with people with autism.
- Mentors - People with autism, especially the higher functioning, need mentors who can be both a special friend and help them learn social skills. The most successful mentors have common interests with the person with autism.
- Educate Employers and Employees - Both employers and employees need to be educated about autism so they support the person with autism and help him. They also need to understand an autistic person's limitations with complex social interactions to help him avoid situations which could cause him to lose his job.
- Freelance Work - Freelance work is often a good option for very high functioning people who have a special skill in computers, music, or art. The person with autism will need someone to help him get the business started and possibly educate clients about autism. Successful freelance businesses have been started in computer programming, piano tuning and graphic arts.
- Make a Portfolio - People with autism have to sell their skills instead of their personality. They should make a portfolio of their work. Artists can make color photocopies of their work, and computer programmers can make a demonstration disc. The portfolio of the person's work should be shown to the people in the art or computing department. In all of my jobs, I had to get in the "back door." Since people with autism do not interview well, the personnel department should be avoided. Technical people respect talent, and a person with autism has to sell his talent to an employer.
Kanner, L., Rodriguez, A., and Ashenden, B. (1972). How far can autistic children go in matters of social adaptation? Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia (Now titled: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders), 2: 9-33.
Szatmari, P., Bartolucci, G., Bond, S., and Rich, S. (1989). A follow-up study of high functioning autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19: 213-225.
Revised February, 1996. An earlier version of this article appeared in The Advocate, Summer, 1992.