Autism Jobs and Vocational Tasks

When my son, Lucas, celebrated his 18th birthday, he officially became an adult. He participated in some autism jobs for a few years prior to his 18th birthday through his IEP at school. The next summer as part of an Extended School Program (ESY), Lucas started volunteering at a local hotel for an hour each week. There were all kinds of jobs at the hotel providing lots of opportunities for Lucas and his team to explore vocational tasks and autism jobs.
As we continue to teach Lucas to complete different job tasks, I thought I’d explain how I break down and teach any vocational task for an autism job to Lucas through Applied Behavior Analysis. This can be used for other  learners with an autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities.

Teaching a Task for Autism Jobs

By teaching Lucas social skills for his job, Lucas can be more independent. For instance, take teaching Lucas to roll utensils inside a napkin. We want him to be able to roll the utensils himself, so the first step is to determine what the finished product should look like. Also if there are any important quality issues to consider. The utensils need to be clean and the napkin needs to be tightly rolled so the silverware does not fall out. For a simple task such as rolling utensils, the napkin can be unrolled to see how it was folded. Also how the silverware was arranged, and how the napkin was rolled.

For a more complex task such as setting up banquet tables and arranging the tables, it might be helpful or necessary for an employee or someone proficient at the skill to demonstrate how the job task is performed from start to finish.

Next, we need to determine whether or not the student or adult you are working with can complete the whole task or part of the task. The amount of supervision or assistance by a job coach or teacher also needs to be planned.

Task Analysis

After a task is selected and demonstrated, a task analysis should be completed. A task analysis is a written list of the steps that are needed to complete a task. These steps can be written or typed on a data sheet so that data can be collected to ensure that the student is learning the steps. Next, the job is modeled (for students who can imitate) or physically prompted. Practicing a skill at home or school can also be helpful. Especially if there are one or two steps that are more difficult. Once the individual starts completing the steps of the job with no errors, prompting and assistance can be systematically faded.

As children with autism get older and leave school, they can learn to do different tasks and hold a job. It’s important to know the right steps to take so that they do the job well.

Gary Mayerson and Autism Jobs

I spoke with Gary Mayerson on his new book, Autism’s Declaration of Independence. You can view the video above. Gary’s fall into the world of autism was exactly that: a fall. He was a partner in a law firm in Manhattan where he was busy representing some of the country’s most powerful people. But when a family member was diagnosed with autism, his world was flipped upside down. Soon, Gary began to wonder why there wasn’t a law firm dedicated to serving autism-based cases. He recognized a need for one, so he filled it.

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Nearly two decades have passed since Gary made “the best decision” of his life, and he has found himself a part of some very important cases; including the first autism-based case to ever reach the US Supreme Court.

But Gary wears more than a single hat. Along with serving as an attorney, he is also the board chairman on Job Paths; a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing appropriate vocational training assessments and services. Essentially, they prepare students with autism so that even if they don’t go to college after they graduate, they still have skills leading to employment. Thanks to these skills, they are able to take on appropriate, sustainable jobs.

Gary says Autism’s Declaration of Independence is about finding the best possible outcome for a child’s transition from school life to adulthood. There is a lot of focus on the school year, but what happens when the child graduates and is unemployed? Now the question becomes, “what did they graduate to?”

A Focus on Transitions

There now needs to be more focus on transitions for people with autism. Independence is so important for their mental health and their general wellbeing. A child’s IEP should include an assessment, experts, and access to school programming and support systems that prepare them for the upcoming transitions into the working world. You can start at age 16, even. Don’t be afraid of trial and error. Go into a restaurant or laundromat and find out what their easiest job or quietest job might be. Depending on the child or client, there are jobs that they can do that fit their needs. While they are still in school, the autism services they have in place can work with them on their tasks.

Also, don’t be afraid to get creative. Gary Mayerson shared with me a story about an adult with autism who lives in Kodiak Island, Alaska. He started a personalized dog tag business because his parents saw that making dog tags was something he liked to do. There are a lot of dogs on Kodiak Island, so it was the perfect fit. Through a bit of creativity and a leap of faith, he was able to become an entrepreneur and work for himself. Even if you live in a remote area, you can find a job for your child or client. There can be a really great life waiting for them outside of school.

Learn More about Autism Jobs

If you have a child or client with autism, take one of my free workshops at Join my community of other parents and professionals of children with autism. I take my knowledge of ABA therapy and share simple things you can do for your child or client to help them be as happy and independent as possible. Whether you are new to the autism world or you just have a few questions, my workshops are for you. Go to today to learn more about autism jobs and how you can help your child or client succeed after high school or college graduation. Your child or client can be successful. Let me help.

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Many kids with autism have a difficult time finding a job after graduation. We all want our child or clients to be as independent as possible into adulthood and part of that is being able to find a job and, but what can we do to help, uh, kids who are teens transitioning to adulthood to find the independence after graduation..

Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, online course creator and bestselling author of The Verbal Behavior Approach. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now.  Today, I’m interviewing an attorney and an author, Gary Mayerson who gives advice on how to better prepare our children with autism for life following graduation.  To hear the whole podcast interview, you can go to, or click the card on the screen now. So you are writing a second book that will be out soon called The Autism’s Declaration of Independence. So tell us about that book. How is that different than your first book and why are you writing it? Autism’s Declaration of Independence focuses on basically the ramp up, how to get the best possible outcome for your child upon the transition to adulthood.

I think that so much of our focus as whether, as clinicians or as educators is, we’re looking at the child that year.  We’re focusing way too much on that particular school year, as opposed to taking the long view and making a plan or a series of plans that will put that child into the best possible place of self sufficiency and independence when that child graduates from the public school system.

So I think that, you know, I, and I’ve seen this hundreds of times now. We’re families doing all they can, the school district is doing what they think is right and then the child graduates to unemployment, necessarily having to live with their parents as opposed to, and that could be a great choice for students too but not by default, and having a housing crisis.

And everybody’s saying, well, they graduated. Well, what did they graduate to? So the case is part of what they’ve said and part of what Congress has said is they’re really focusing on the outcome. We’re looking at what is the outcome as the proof of whether the programming and everything that was happening in school was effective.

So, the book is about how to shape your child’s educational program with, through the assessment process, through using experts through accessing the pro, the programming and the supports that are available in the public school system, so that the child is able to graduate to something that’s meaningful and fulfilling for them upon the transition to adulthood.

So, so much of what we see today is that you will see conference after conference about transition. That’s, that’s the issue today. It’s no longer, it’s no, we’ve already bought into. We know that ABA is, uh, demonstrably effective. We don’t have to keep reinventing that wheel over and over again, as we did 15 or 20 years ago, now it’s accepted.

The surgeon general has said that it’s an effective, uh, method. Um, the New York state department of health has a three or four volume set was published in the 1990s, that said it was an effective method. So. We don’t have to reinvent or fight those, some of those battles again, you know, well, we do have to, we do have to keep sharpening our pencil a little bit so that we have better outcomes for students with autism, whether they are, and I hate this terminology, high functioning, low functioning.

I don’t care about any of that. Wherever the child is, the Supreme court use of the word potential means that that child has a potential. We need to be using that potential to determine what’s an appropriate and meaningful program for that child. And we should look at the outcome of how independent we were able to get that student, how self sufficient, we’re able to get that student as a measure of our success, because ultimately, you know, we all know how much it costs to sustain a person with autism who has to live in a group home or in some other similar facility.

It’s millions of dollars over a lifetime. Millions of dollars. And if you’re going to invest the money, invest in independence and invest in self sufficiency, that’s sustainable. And today we’re seeing a lot, many more students with autism. I’m not just talking about Asperger’s, but with “regular autism” going onto a college experience, going on to a vocational experience. One of the, one of the other hats that I wear is I’m the board chair of a not-for-profit called Job Path, which is located in New York City. And Job Path does what the public school system has pretty much failed to do, which is provide the appropriate great vocational training, assessment and services so that the student, even if they don’t go onto college, has some kind of skill. So these are not just jobs. There are, some of the jobs are, you know, scanning or shredding jobs in offices, but many of them are working in a, in a restaurant, uh, preparing food. Um, working in an office, putting files together. So, so today’s, uh, autism graduate has a future to look forward to in many cases that just didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago.

So I think job development is a, is a gigantic issue when you’re talking about an unemployment rate and we can argue about whether it’s 80%, 85 or 90 or 95%, but it’s way high it’s too high. You know, if you’re a typically developing person and you see the unemployment rate going over 5%, you freak.  This is 80, at least 80, 85%.

It’s it’s, it’s just unacceptable. Wow. But what are we going to do is, you know, the book is, and the book also has, contains, you know, many stories from the cases we’ve had. Um, some of the more interesting stories we have vignettes of, um, of what happened in the case of the backstory. So I think that a lot of, a lot of families might find interesting to see what happened in these particular cases.

So the book is, it’s a different approach. Yes. It has the practical strategies that parents can use if they’re in loggerheads with the school district, how to go to mediation, how to send a 10 day letter, how to demand due process. How to settle the case. It has all that, but it has more. And the, the more is basically the, the forward-looking looking towards a sustainable future and, and the transition to adulthood.

Yeah. Which is so important. And when you’re talking about transition, the transition age, when children, when we really are required by law to start looking at it is age 14, but even if you have a 10 year old or 12 year old, who is very impaired. You know, instead of arguing and litigating, whether they should have this or that, we really also need to be looking at what are they gonna do at 16?

What are they going to do at 18? What am I going to do at 25, um, years of age? Because, um, that should help shape the IEP. Um, because like you said, independence is so important and it is one of the things that I’ve focused on over the years. The other thing you said is you have this, uh, Job Path nonprofit, which is awesome.

And I just want to also encourage behavior analysts and teachers listening is you don’t have to like send kids to a program. Or even have a program already established. You may be you, you may use ABA principles, um, to go in, like I did when I had a sixth grader client and then I had him up through 21.

So, so at age 14 we started looking, where is this student going to be able to go. For transition trials for work trials?  You know, I didn’t have any experience, kind of like being a waitress. It’s like, you just have to start and start working with where you can volunteer, where you can observe where you’re, who’s willing.

Like the guy at the local restaurant here he’s like, Lucas can come in any time, you know, with his, with his aide. Who’s not a job coach or anything. She knows ABA. She knows Lucas. Like, we’ll figure it out. So some of it is just like, because there’s just not enough established programs right now to deal with the influx of kids that are going to be coming.

And so I really think your book’s going to be important. And, and this podcast is important to tell people, you know, we just need to start developing things based on the individuals that you have and their needs and use the principles. Like when I went into a laundry at the hospital, I’m like, show me your, your simplest job.

You know, or with Lucas, he likes to sit to do work versus stand, he’s bothered by loud noises. Okay. Show me where is the quietest job? Where’s the simplest job? Where’s jobs that you could sit and just start piecing together, work trials that can give us data. Sure. And parents in some instances have to be inventive and creative enough to start their own employment situation completely from scratch.

I, um, we have a client family that lives in Kodiak Island, Alaska, the Pletnikoff family, who’s, and I say their name only because they’ve been very outspoken and they’ve used their name. Otherwise it would be confidential of course. But, um, when their son was, graduated from the public school system and was looking for employment, they came up with a fascinating  idea, which is to create, you know, dog tags. Lots of dogs on Kodiak Island, dog tags, personalized dog tags. And, uh, and their child was able to start this business and, and basically be an entrepreneur in an area that wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of, you know, regular jobs in an office. They don’t even have really that many offices in Kodiak Island. There’s no, there’s no, ready employment, other than the fishing industry, pretty much. It’’s pretty much fishing oriented. So, but this is a situation where the, the family got together and they use their head and they said, you know what, what would be in demand here on Kodiak Island and, and dog tags was, uh, something that worked for them.

So, you know, if you’re a parent and you’re living in a remote area, don’t give up, you may. You can just put on your thinking cap. You may come up with something that people need, and that will be a job for your child, or can be.  Wherever you’re watching this,  I’d love it, if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share this video with others who may benefit.

And for more information, you can attend a free online workshop at And I’ll see you right here next week.

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