By Dr. Jackie M. Marquette
Students and young adults with ASD (autism spectrum disorders) have strong passions, valuable strengths, talents, and emotional strengths. I met one-on-one with hundreds of individuals and heard their dreams and goals. I listened deeply to their long narratives expressed with eagerness about the desire to have a job or a career right for them. Yet many did not know what they were good at doing, nor did they know how to get moving in the right direction to a career option. For those who had an idea, college or certifications appealed to some, but not others. Self employment options such as an art business seemed to be an interest, but putting all the pieces together were an unknown.
I also listened to how they struggled to keep themselves together emotionally. Most of my clients had enormous difficulty integrating and interacting with peers or entering new settings because of low self worth, high anxiety, or depression. With these challenges and strong comparisons to their peers, many spiraled into a deep seated fear not wanting to leave their home.
I believe we can do better in serving this group’s needs in these four ways:
1). To know all of their strengths and the value of their strengths tied to possible career/jobs
2) to have career preparation through career exploration and/or studies
3) To develop self emotional awareness through Power Practices for on-the-job capabilities
4) Employers and supervisors to receive sensitivity training to promote increased understanding of these individual’s capabilities and their value to a job or career.
I discovered it is through the identification of strengths and interests across four broad areas that is key to recognizing the holistic view of the individual’s capabilities. The areas include:
a. hard skills
b. self expression
c. personal preferences
d. self emotional awareness.
The individual’s findings become potential solutions to choosing a career interest. Each strength identified has value and is tied to a career(s). After identifying one’s strengths, through a career assessment I designed, it offers the individual a printout list of options for jobs, careers, and college studies which matches the student’s strengths. The software contains hundreds of work/career possibilities at various levels: part time, full time, self employment, certification, college degree, advanced degrees, and volunteer. When one gains knowledge about their own strengths, the information can become extraordinary solutions that elevates and liberates the individual, whereby tensions alleviated and motivation enhanced in the individual. Some positive outcomes include self empowerment with increased adaptation, and emotional well being.
I offer 25 actions to assist connecting to career. Of 25, 20 are revealed through Sarah, a young woman with ASD who was my client. These actions reflect Sarah’s real life goals and triumphs she has already made to reach her dreams.
Sarah is a 19 year young woman who wrote me asking for help to find a career direction. She expressed how she suffered throughout her teen years with anxiety and depression because she was bullied horribly. She tried several times to commit suicide because peer rejection was too much to bare.
Although Sarah has been free from the traumatic years, she continues to feel wounded and lacks confidence. Because her career interest has been stronger than her past trauma, Sarah is persevering.
Sarah has had a long deep passion for the theater. Her dad introduced Sarah to broadway shows in her home town and on trips to NYC. She often wondered about the kind of career that she could enjoy even with social anxiety. She asked for assistance to how to recognize her strengths to determine the strengths that might lead her to career possibilities.
Hard Skill Ability
- Strength Finding: Sarah recognized her strength in communicating and convincing someone to buy products. She had strong interests in collecting and playing with toys. Her favorite action figures were women with superpowers. Working in sales at the toy store was the perfect fit for Sarah. Realized Outcome: Because of her interest in engaging children and parents about certain toys, she was promoted to Sales Manager of the toy store.
- Strength Finding: Sarah selected an interest in playing video games. Potential Career: The career finding was game developer.
- Strength Finding: Sarah showed a strength in writing as she enjoys creating short stories and journals daily. Potential Career: Sarah is considering starting her own web site and writing a blog to guide girls, 9- 13 to guard and protect themselves agains bullies. She also wants to promote self worth and give positive suggestions to her young readers. She realizes it may be difficult to earn money right away, but she is excited about how fulfilling it will be and the possible potential opportunities it could bring to her. This strength also was identified in Part B: Self Expression.
- Strength Finding: She selected an interest in volunteering for her candidate for an election. Realized Outcome: Sarah volunteered at the phone bank for her candidate in a recent election.
- Strength Finding: Sarah identified having an interest in human rights and advocating for these groups, LGBT and GLBT. Realized Outcome: Sarah is an advocate.
- Strength Finding: Sarah sings beautifully, debates well on political subjects, and loves acting. All of these strengths can be applied to a career in theater. Realized Outcome: Sarah is now attending a local university and is majoring in theater. She discovered she wants to start her career in theater where she can work back stage as a costume designer.
- Strength Finding: Sarah enjoys photography. Realized Outcome: She plans to use her photography skills and put her images in her blog and in creating a portfolio on the costumes she will design.
- Strength Finding: Sarah shows motivation because her goal is to receive a college degree and she is working on it. Realized Outcome: Sarah is in her 2nd semester at the University.
- Strength Finding & Realized Outcome: Patterns in learning and functioning. Sarah selected strengths in being organized for: projects, appointments, and running errands by using tech tools: I-pad, I-phone, color coding, etc.
- Strength Finding: Sarah selected a preference to have structure in the environment where she will work: quiet settings and always working indoors.
- Strength Finding: Sarah selected that she wants a career where she is surrounded among a small group of coworkers.
- Strength Finding: Sarah learns best by watching a video.
- Strength Finding: Sarah selected that she feels more connected to peers or groups with a peer/friend, mentor, or someone who has her back, especially in difficult or confusing situations.
Self Emotional Awareness
- Strength Finding: Sarah commented that she rarely makes an impulsive decision. She gathers all the information first, such as before signing up for a class, making purchases. (self emotional awareness)
- Strength Finding: Sarah spent time exploring careers pertaining to theater before she chose her major at the university.
- Strength Finding: Sarah responds well to new opportunities that are good for her best interests, even when she feared change. For example, accepting a sales manager position at the toy store. (saying yes to good opportunities)
- Strength Finding: Sarah indicated she feels intense empathy for a family member in need, or a peer being ridiculed, or a disabled individual who needed assistance. (empathy)
- Strength Finding: Sarah can be trusted. Her employer relied on her to conduct tasks and actions requiring responsibility in the store. (trustworthiness)
- Strength Finding: Sarah shows her appreciation to a supervisor or professor who helps her or grants her a favor. (building bonds)
- Strength Finding: Sarah has passion and strong interests in working for a cause. (political group awareness)
Sarah showed many strengths and capabilities that are highly valued in the world of work. These strengths may also be applied during an interview for a job or in writing a resume.
Practice Self Empowerment
You are your own best solution to reaching career and life goals. Twenty-one through twenty- five briefly offers purposeful actions.
- Hard Skill Ability —Start the career exploration process, inquire about job shadowing or volunteering in your career of choice.
- Self Expression—Evaluate emotions both positive and negative in your career exploration. List possible next steps to increase potential realities of moving in the direction of your career choice.
- Personal Preferences—Evaluate any support that enables your participation, adaptation, or produces feeling comfortable in your own skin, that is, who you are.
- Emotional Strengths— Emotions drive everything. Read stories or biographies of individuals who moved through adversity to reach their goals. Recognize the emotional strengths your have that can enhance your effectiveness on the job or in a career
- Know you can offer contributions to the workplace as a valuable employee. Whether you disclose or choose not to, build your network of people to rely upon. Choose those who see the best in you, to see possibilities, with a mentor or someone who ‘has your back’. Enjoy this video I made for you, you can see it at this link.
To know yourself and your value is the root to having successful employment down the road. You are not a statistic of hopelessness, but a treasure of strength with contributions the world needs.