Challenges in the Workplace
There are challenges every day when working with adults with autism, especially when the individuals are out in the community working at jobs. As a Supported Employment Manager, I always try to make the worksites safe and to the individual’s liking. However, when out in the community, there is always a challenge or something unpredictable that can happen. In previous columns, I wrote about making sure the individual is placed in the right job, and that the environment is right for them as well. The thing about worksites is that the environment can change without warning, or the job itself can change at the drop of a hat. I have learned ways to help the individuals deal with these changes, and to train the staff on how to deal with the changes as well should something happen without notice.
One recent example of this just happened to an individual on my caseload at a worksite he had been at for years. The individual is very high-functioning, and has never really needed support staff at his worksite at a clothing store. The store managers had worked with someone with a disability before, and understood about autism. Then the store changed managers, and the new manager had never worked with someone with autism before and did not understand the employee’s challenges. The manager had some concerns about the individual walking away from his work, and not being able to do a new task that the manager was assigning him. After speaking with the manager about her concerns, it was decided that the individual would need on-site support in order to keep his job, This was a change in the environment for the individual, because he was used to staff just stopping in at the worksite to check on him, not someone being there all day. It was also a challenge for me because I would have to try to explain to the individual why an on-site job coach was necessary.
When I informed the individual of the change, he asked if the new arrangement was a “punishment.” I simply explained to the individual that support staff would help him learn and perform new job tasks. I wanted to communicate that the employee is doing a good job, but he might need a little help with new tasks. I also wanted to demonstrate to the store manager that I am willing to team up to help keep the individual employed with them.
There are always going to be challenges when working with someone with autism at the workplace. Whatever changes occur—in tasks, schedules, or work environment—the key is to work with the individual and staff to make accommodations to keep the individual employed in the community. As an Employment Manager, I can never plan for these changes. But I always look for solutions that allow the employee to be successful and the employer to feel the needs of the business are being met.