by Joanna Keating-Velasco, author or "A if for Autism, F is for Friend"
A New Kind Of Networking
We’ve all heard that it’s “who you know” or “networking” that helps the majority of people obtain a job. While experience, resumes, and education are important in obtaining employment, word of mouth is the best way to find a job. Networking is about interacting with people through socializing. For those with special challenges, networking can be more perplexing than actually gaining job experience. Tapping this concealed job market through this “social network” can be daunting, but it’s necessary. I have worked 15 years with students with various severe challenges and currently work in adult transition. When asked, “What’s the most important skill your students can learn?” My thoughts immediately go to “social skills.” While having the cognitive or hands-on ability to do a job better seems valuable, having the ability to engage socially with potential employers and coworkers is highly advantageous.
That said; it seems like it might be easier for individuals with special needs to “charm” their way into a position, but social interaction and building relationships can be overwhelming. For many, it seems like there is a book titled SOCIAL RULES that “typical” people were born fully understanding whereas many individuals who are challenged never received a copy. So, what kind of tactics can help these individuals build on this skill of networking for jobs? The same kind of strategies that help typical individuals, but perhaps with a little tweak or twist.
First, I want to list some social skills activities that should be focused on throughout this individual’s schooling curriculum. Many of these skills will be the foundation for future networking.
Social Skills Activities
- Exercise turn-taking opportunities.
- Practicing waiting (to speak, to eat, to do an activity). Some children are never made to wait for ANYTHING at home. That does them a disservice when in the community. Waiting is part of life.
- Focus on nonverbal communication (facial & eye expressions, body language, and gesturing).
- Provide opportunities for practicing stress management.
- Venture out into the community (jobs, shopping, volunteering) – this not only broadens their experience, they might meet potential job contacts.
- Create opportunities for time management and organizing (whether projects or games)
- Provide leadership or supervisor opportunities by putting the individual in charge of a task, rewarding him for accomplishment and holding him responsible for completion of the task.
- Participate in Micro-businesses on or off-campus to encourage social interaction and job skills. Having school-based jobs at companies in the community is priceless experience and early networking.
- Set individual goals and complete vocational assessments.
- Encourage classroom jobs such as answering the phone, taking attendance or helping in the office.
Second, let’s get to networking. Networking consists of overlapping connections of personal relationships, interests, and experience. By answering the following three questions, one can start shaping their own network.
Who is in your network?
These people can serve as mentors, references or recommend potential job opportunities.
- Former teachers, aides, sports coaches or counselors
- Job Shadows or Coaches – these people can play a key role in helping with the transition
- Family and friends
- Neighbors or church members
- Community contacts (locally or even online)
What’s your passion?
- Hobbies or interests might be the industry for job opportunities
- Volunteering for jobs in their field of interest - might open up potential jobs and networking contacts
- Sometimes a “no” or “closed door” is good in the long run or may even open another better door
- Become an expert on jobs in your field of interest. Learn more than a typical person would.
- Consider dress code and grooming requirements in this industry
What’s on your resume?
- Jobs performed during schooling inside and outside the classroom
- Volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood or community – volunteering can prove priceless for gaining skills and additional references. Also keep a log of various volunteer duties, hours and the contact at each site.
- Family or friend business opportunities – even if they seem insignificant
- Favorite local businesses or organizations – offer to help them for free – connect with the manager
A job can provide a sense of achievement, worth, and pride which can make a huge positive impact on one’s quality of life. Having a plan and strategies to acquire necessary skills and contacts for potential future employment is vital. Many public school districts offer adult transition classes which students must exit at age 22. Some counties have quality opportunities that these students can advance into, however, in some areas of the country, these services and prospects are sorely lacking. Working with the entire Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team well ahead of the transition years can enable a family to create a unique yet comprehensive pathway of strategies that aim an individual toward a potentially successful and blissful future.
Thanks for reading "What You Should Be Doing Now To Prepare Your ASD Students For The Job World". Do you have anything to add or share?
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