This blog post is by Sheri Baron, PhD., Director of Training at Yes She Can Inc. and a member of the Board of Directors of the organization.
Diplomas Are Not Enough.
I am a clinical psychologist in private practice and have been working with children and adolescents on the autistic spectrum for more than 20 years. During my time in the field there has been intense focus on treatments for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders starting with toddlers in early intervention and continuing through completion of high school.
Educators and therapists have been working with students with ASD to help them succeed academically with the goal of earning a high school diploma. So now we have enabled many kids on the spectrum to get through high school, often graduating with a diploma. Some students even go on to college and make it through a 4 year program, and some even go on to graduate school. Although this is a great accomplishment, their diplomas do not matter if these young people ultimately cannot find and sustain employment or can only get jobs well below their intellectual capabilities. In fact, only 53% of adults with ASD have had a job in the 8 years following high school graduation.
80% of young adults on the spectrum are unemployed or underemployed.
When I heard this deplorable statistic, I knew that I had to do something to help change that figure. The realization that scholastic ability is not enough to obtain a meaningful job meant to me that we were not adequately teaching or helping to develop those skills and traits that matter most on a job; motivation, social skills, emotional regulation and responsibility and dependability.
Many young people with autism are graduating from high school with the potential to work but lack the basic social, emotional, and communication skills, those ‘soft skills’ needed to be successful on the job. It comes back to the basic ‘problem’; you have to be able to play and work nicely with others. (In fact, that is more important to employers than outstanding skills to accomplish tasks.)
I believe in order to develop these skills there must be a need and an opportunity. The need is the internal motivation on the part of the individual with autism to learn those skills necessary to be a good employee in order to achieve their dream career. The opportunity is to have an environment in which to better understand one’s strengths and weaknesses and practice those skills in a safe environment where genuine honest feedback is provided.
I joined Yes She Can which operates Girl AGain boutique to help build a job skill development program to provide the information and training this group of young women need in order to work in a competitive environment. Girl AGain boutique provides a unique experience where young women can do meaningful work that they are proud of and learn and practice social communication skills and emotional regulation in a real work environment.
We are on our way!