April is Autism Awareness Month. This is the first post in a four-post series.

“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.” (Excerpted from “Making the Transition from the World of School to the World of Work” by Temple Grandin.) *

 By Karen Steffan

 Temple Grandin states that a person with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can make a successful transition into a job or career. The following are some suggestions:

 * 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 willing to work with people with ASD.

* Mentors – People with ASD, especially those that are 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 ASD so they can support and help the person with autism. They also need to understand an autistic person’s limitations with complex social interactions to help him/her avoid situations that could cause the individual to lose his/her 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. A person with ASD 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 – Persons with ASD 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.

Wednesday: Upfront strategies

Thusrday: Knowing the Person’s Communication Style

Friday: Questions to Ask PRIOR to the Intake Appointment

Note: This post/article appears in its entirety as the Training Tool-Kit insert in the April Job Training and Placement Report. To subscribe, or to find out more, visit the “JTPR” link at www.impact-publications.com

Karen Steffan, MS, CRC, began working with students with autism in 2000 on a grant project “Transitioning Students with Autism”, with James Emmett and Pamela Leonard, at the LaGrange Area Department of Special Education (LADSE). Karen is the Program Coordinator of Vocational Services at LADSE. Karen has worked as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Job Developer, and as a Vocational Services Administrator in adult settings.

* Temple Grandin, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University and an internationally known speaker on autism. Temple speaks from her personal story of growing up and living life with autism.