I’m a guidance counselor working with very bright student who is finishing high school. He wants to go to college. We think he could but it’s scary, especially for his parents.
First, as background for you, the parents and the students themselves, I’d recommend that you read what bright, articulate adults with autism spectrum disorder have to say about this topic. Some I’d recommend are:
Grandin, Temple & Duffy, Kate. Developing Talents. Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism.
Grandin, Temple. A video called Dr. Temple Grandin speaks on Careers – Opportunity for Growth. (This info is also available on her DVD titled, Dr. Temple Grandin on Visual Thinking, Sensory, Careers and Medications.
Newport, Jerry. Your Life is Not a Label: A Guide to Living Fully with Autism and Asperger’s.
Prince-Hughes, Dawn (editor). Aquamarine Blue 5. Personal Stories of College Students with Autism.
Jed Baker. Preparing for Life. A Complete Guide to Transitioning to Adulthood for those on the Autism and Asperger’s Spectrums.
Halliday, Liane. Pretending to Be Normal.
While we’re often anxious to be as helpful as we can to such young people, in the end when they enter the world of work or post-secondary institutions, they are more or less on their own and we can offer little more than support from the sidelines. This makes it essential that these young people have a solid understanding of their own pattern of strengths and weaknesses.
Without an understanding of how an autism spectrum disorder impacts their lives and how this may contribute to views/experiences not shared or understood by other people, these young people can become readily frustrated out in “the world”.
Outside of the school and home environment they’re used to, they’ll encounter adults who are not patient with their differences and are either unwilling to make accommodations or unaware of the need to. Then the person must become an advocate for himself and learn which strategies are most effective in helping him accomplish what needs to be done.
If the students you’re working with do not yet have much insight into ASD, a simple little introductory book is called, Asperger’s Huh? By Rosina Schnurr.
Another good training-type book is Inside Out: What Makes a Person with Social Cognitive Deficits Tick?(Asperger Syndrome, High-Functioning Autism, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified. The author is Michelle Garcia Winner.
Luke Jackson’s book, Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome is excellent.
In gaining insight into themselves, a few points are key:
1.Theory of Mind – how other people do not necessarily share the thoughts and feelings they’re having – they need to use words to let others know what they’re thinking and ask them their thoughts rather than basing their actions on assumptions
- Time – whether or not time is a big deal to them, it is to other people and even when they don’t understand or agree with it’s importance, they need to conform to others’ expectations of how they manage time – use alarms, vibrating watches, pop-up reminders on the computer, electronic or paper/pencil agendas, etc. – make up and use schedules
3.Special interests & talents – life is not only about the things that capture their attention – they have to accomplish all the other stuff as well, even when it makes little sense to them and there are more interesting things to do – what point is there to having a real talent if they can’t figure out how to use that talent?
4.Hygiene – again, even when they don’t feel like it or do not see the need, being clean and appropriately dressed matters
5.Sensory – most people with ASD are affected in some way by sensory sensitivities – each individual needs to be aware of their own sensory profile and how sensory input affects them – then they need to learn what things calm them, how and when to get themselves into a place where they can get calm enough to function. The book, Zones of Regulation will help, as might How Does Your Engine Run. The Alert Program for Self-Regulation by Mary Sue Williams & Sherry Shellenberger is an excellent training vehicle for this.
6.The Rule Is… – many people with ASD are rule-governed and this can be a helpful thing to remember, especially when in situations they don’t easily understand but where compliance is essential. The rule is you show up for work at 8:30 each day. The rule is you use deodorant. The rule is you keep to the schedule.
7.Social stories – you may have done social stories with your students when they were younger. While the same format may no longer be necessarily, some kind of social scripting is still helpful. It might take the form of a notebook listing “What if’s…” What if the bus is late – here’s what you can do. What if your alarm doesn’t go off in the morning? What if you disagree with your boss? What if you’re ill? What if a group of people is going out for lunch and asks you to come along? What should you wear to an office party? A lecture?
8.Auditory processing – many people with ASD are stronger visually but have weaker auditory processing skills, particularly in times of stress. At such times, written reminders will be key. The student would need to be aware of this weak area and seek clarification that they have understood the directions. Microcassettes are good for recording lectures and meetings where weak auditory skills could lead to errors or missed information. They are also good for people who have difficulty listening and taking notes at the same time.
9. Smart Pens are wonderful gadgets for those who have difficulty listening while taking notes at the same time. Or for people who prefer to study by listening rather than reading. One example is the Live Scribe Pens.
10.Body language – While eye contact may be uncomfortable for some people with ASD, it’s important to neurotypicals. Understanding why and practicing eye contact can help before interview situations. Learning to recognize non-verbal language can help an autistic student pick up on the cues people send when they’ve monopolized the conversation or made others uncomfortable. Here’s a couple sites that might help: ,
If your student is interested in computer-type games, look into some of the older Sims family of games as a way of practicing social and other real-life situations (including preparing to get a job).
11.Rehearse – practice the verbal parts of an interview, but practice these in a number of different settings, ideally where the interview will take place or a mock-up of the place. Practice getting to the office, school or classroom. If the student plans to discuss ASD with the employer, might it be possible to get a list of the interview questions ahead of time? Donna Williams (Autism Today’s Panel of Experts) has made this request when she was to be interviewed on the radio. It might be easier to read responses to the questions rather than engage in a normal interview situation.
12.Appropriateness of the situation – if your student is not a real “people person” perhaps a job dealing with the public for eight hours a day is not what he should be seeking
13.Disclosure – should the student disclose to the future employer or post-secondary institution that he has an ASD? Many schools will provide accommodations to students who self-identify. Some employers will be understanding; some may shy away. Stephen Shore (Autism Today’s Panel of Experts) has some good thoughts on the subject of disclosure.
When will it happen and how will it look? While your high functioning students certainly have the potential to successfully join mainstream life, the how and when may look different than for their age peers. Perhaps they will need to get there along a different path. Maybe completing a college degree is their future but it might take longer than the normal four years. Taking only 60% of a normal load may be all that can be successfully handled at least in the first year. Here’s a website that deals with university and autism Asperger’s syndrome.
Moving away from home on top of starting post-secondary training or a new job may be too much to do all at once so just one of these factors should be changed within a year. Part-time rather than full-time work may lead to more initial success. If a four-year degree seems a far-reaching goal, especially when subjects need to be taken in diverse areas. A one-year, focused technical certificate may be more manageable initially and its successful completion would do much in bolstering self-confidence. Perhaps the transition to life after high school needs to be done in increments. No matter when and how, it requires the understanding and cooperation on the part of the student since this is his life.