As summer approaches, you may be wondering whether your teen with autism or Asperger's syndrome is ready for a part-time job. Temple Grandin, college professor and author of The Way I See It, believes it is important to start developing skills and getting work experience before graduating from high school to help with the transition to independent living. According to Grandin, "The transition from school to employment should be gradual and not abrupt. I saw one student who graduated successfully from college and he had zero job skills. This is wrong. Teaching job skills should start before the student graduates. Mother was always pushing me to try new things. If she had not pushed me, I would not have developed." 
Paid, Volunteer or Internship?
When we think of work experience for teens, the first thing we think of is a paid position, usually for minimum wage. But this doesn't have to be the case.
Summer jobs are used for a variety of reasons. They can:
- Help develop social skills
- Provide valuable information about how workplaces function
- Give structure to an otherwise endless summer of boring days
- Offer experience in a specific field or industry
While getting a paycheck and having spending money is certainly a great benefit of a summer job, it does not need to be the main reason, and, there are other options, such as volunteer work or unpaid internships that offer your teen all the benefits of working but don't give a paycheck. This type of work still can help prepare your teen for independent living and for entering the workforce. Think about yours, and your teen's, reasons for working are. Volunteering or an unpaid internship may be a good alternative.
Types of Work
No matter what type of opportunity you and your teen look for, you want to take into consideration his or her strengths and interests as well as their weaknesses. If working with the public isn't going to be easy, typical "teen jobs" such as fast food, retail or movie theatres probably aren't the best way to go. Instead, look for opportunities that are more out of the mainstream.
Some ideas include:
- Cleaning offices
- Computer repair
- Making crafts and selling to local shops
- Lawn care or landscaping
- Pet care or dog walking
- Stocking shelves
- Farm help
- Animal hospitals or shelters
- Warehouse work
Working With Special Interests
Many teens with autism or Asperger's syndrome have special interests that are important to their feelings of well-being. You may be able to use these interests to find opportunities in your area. For example, if your teen is great at repairing the computers in your house, you can contact local computer repair shops and ask about apprenticeships or internships, either unpaid or paid, where your teen can expand their knowledge about their interests. If your teen does have a special interest, chances are he has gathered up a great deal of knowledge on the subject and some companies may be happy to have someone who is so dedicated to their focus.
As a society, we may sometimes look at those with autism through their disability, forgetting that many of the traits of autism and Asperger's syndrome are great skills to have in the workplace. Reminding yourself, and your teen, about what they can offer to potential employers helps you focus on what your teen can bring to a job.
Seeing parts instead of the whole. Individuals with autism and AS often have a hard time seeing the "whole picture," instead they focus on each individual part. This trait is helpful in many different careers, such as computer or machine repair or medical/scientific research.
Preferring to be alone. There are many different careers that require individuals to work alone and be content to have minimal contact with the "public." Instead of seeing this as a weakness, think about the many jobs, such as gardening, animal care or writing, that focus more on skills than contact with others.
Being rule oriented. Many workplaces thrive because workers follow the rules and regulations while others require thinking outside the box. If your teen needs a structured environment that works within rules, look for opportunities that need people to follow steps and rules, such as working in a hospital, lab or assembling products.
Before sitting down and listing possible opportunities for your teen, think about what you and your teen want to accomplish over the summer. Do you want to have him get a paycheck? Do you want him to build skills for later career choices? Do you want him to develop better social skills? Once you know what you want to accomplish, it is easier to focus on opportunities that will specifically address these issues. For example, if you are looking for your teen to develop social skills and a paycheck is not the most important issue, you can look into volunteer opportunities rather than only applying to paid positions.
Once you have set goals for what you want to accomplish, you can monitor the situation to make sure it is working. Sit down together after a week, a month and at the end of the summer to reevaluate the workplace and decide if it has met your goals. You can then determine if you need to make changes or if your teen wants to continue on the same path.
"Aspergers and Employment, Date Unknown, Adrienne Warber, LoveToKnow.com: Autism
"Teenagers with Autism: Want a Job?" 2009, April 2, Nancy Shute, U.S. News and World Report
"The Way I See It," 2011, Temple Grandin, Future Horizons
 "Transition to Employment and Independent Living for Individuals with Autism and Aspergers," Date Unknown, Temple Grandin, Grandin.com
Published On: May 02, 2012