Helping Your Older ASD Teen to Find Work


How can I get my 19-year-old son [with high functioning autism] to stop playing video games long enough to go find a job? I try to tell him that he needs to be working at least part-time at this age – but he’s not interested. (*sigh*)


Looking for a job is difficult for any teenager new to the job market, especially when high unemployment allows extreme selectivity among job applicants. But with ASD or high-functioning autism, the difficulty level goes up yet another notch. Chances are strong that your child will face this challenge.

How can you make your home a supportive place for job hunting? Here are some ideas:

1. Be a good listener. Let him express his feelings of frustration, anger, and nervousness about seeking employment.

2. Be aware of community resources. Know the applicable civil rights laws. Consider government programs such as vocational rehabilitation and job service. If you know of other parents whose children are job hunting, you may want to form a support group for yourselves and/or your children.

3. Grooming is important. Teens with autism are often unaware of stains on their clothing, sloppy hair, or dirt on their hands. It helps if someone looks them over before an interview.

4. Help him to organize himself. Many – if not most – HFA teens do not know how to look for work. There are many books about job-hunting, each with a slightly different approach. Together, you might decide on a plan of action. Or help might be needed with the fine points of planning and scheduling. You could remind him of necessary follow-up telephone calls or letters. 

5. Help with writing if necessary. Teens on the spectrum tend not to have the best hand-writing skills. It might be helpful if the parent types or hand-writes job applications since sloppy handwriting and misspellings tend to disturb employers. If the employer uses online job kiosks (a new barrier for people with reading and writing difficulty), you may have to sit with him and key in the words of the application. Also, help with transportation, if necessary.

6. Insist your child actively look for work. Do not let him spend extensive time playing games, watching TV, reading, etc. If necessary, tell him that looking for work is a full-time job, which he must do in order to earn your financial support. Help him by not overloading him with chores during working hours on the weekdays when employers are in. Help him overcome his failures, but do not accept lack of effort.

7. Use your social network to help your child find work. Talk to your friends, co-workers, and other parents of autistic children. Tell them about your child. Stress your child’s positive qualities and describe him as a capable worker. Don’t spend a lot of time describing his disorder. Ask him to follow up any leads that you discover.

8. Social skills are important to job success. Help your child to understand the point of view of co-workers and to adjust to the many hidden rules of the organization.

9. As he looks for employment, emphasize his actions and behavior, rather than the results. If he is actively seeking work, he deserves your respect and praise, even if he does not succeed in finding work. For example, praise your child if he does a good job of describing his qualifications at an interview, even if he is not selected for the opening.

10. Finding a job is only half the battle. Your child will have to work hard in order to keep that job. Be sure your child gets a complete job description and check for problem areas. If your child might have difficulty with any task because of his disorder, he may want to consider trading that task with a co-worker in return for a task that he can do.

Autistic teens work in every conceivable job – salesperson, optometrist, pilot, doctor, psychologist, computer programmer, janitor, and waiter. Pay attention to your child’s abilities. Teach him to feel pride in his achievements. And support him as he hunts for a job. With your help and your clear belief that your child can succeed, he can “make it.” 

Good luck!

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
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