As helicopter parents of neurotypical young adults are finding out the hard way, it is critical for teenagers to get their first job early so they can begin learning the real-life lessons needed to be a successful adult.

At The Ability Hub, we feel this is also true for teenagers with an autism diagnosis. As our programs and experience with teens grow, we have become increasingly appreciative of the importance of getting a part-time job as a teenager as the first step towards independent living.

Some of the life lessons you may learn from your first job are:
• Being punctual
• Being a team player
• Making friends
• Receiving feedback
• Customer Service
• Dealing with difficult people
• Becoming more aware of others
• Being organized
• Meeting deadlines
• Money management
• Problem solving in the real world

While all work and no play may not be ideal, all play and no work may limit the important lessons learned by teens with ASD.

Many parents support their children’s focus on school over getting a part-time job which is exemplary, but may not be the best plan for the long term. Other parents may allow their teenagers to become overly focused playing X-box, Facebooking or some other home-based and solitary activity that they find enjoyable. We feel the lessons learned as a teenage employee are just as critical as those learned at school to succeed later in life.

As with most of us, your first job likely won’t be as a rocket scientist or a 3-d animator and probably won’t relate to your list of possible careers. It will probably be a job, like washing dishes, cutting grass or painting fences. While these are not glamour jobs they are the building blocks of many successful individuals. There is an old saying that “the path to the board room is through the mail room.” Successful people didn’t get to where they are by sitting at home waiting for the perfect job. Using a sports analogy, you don’t get to play professional hockey, football or baseball without playing in the minor leagues, often starting as early as 4 or 5 years old. The same is true in the working world, the earlier you get started the better chance you have of getting a job when you are older.

We recognize that teens with a diagnosis of autism might have difficulty holding down a job right off the bat, so that is why volunteering as a first step may be a good option. As a volunteer you can learn many of the same life lessons as a paying job, but without some of the same demands and stresses.

The Ability Hub, in partnership with Society for Treatment of Autism has developed a volunteer program for teens with autism in Calgary. This program introduces teenagers to the responsibilities required to be an active volunteer, where they can develop valuable skills and experience without a huge time commitment. Another important component is developing and practicing the social skills required to navigate a place of business. This socialization is done working side by side with typically developing peers who provide feedback in an age appropriate manner. Volunteering may be the first opportunity that an individual with autism has to “give back” to the community, which can become a source of pride and create a sense of accomplishment.

In the volunteer program, program facilitators talk to participants about their own first job to help them appreciate the lessons and value that a first job can provide. Participants are often surprised to find out that facilitator’s first jobs often included being servers, cooks and dish washers. Indeed, none of our facilitators knew as teenagers they wanted to be program facilitators working in the autism field. In fact many had never even heard of autism when they were teenagers, unless they had a family member with autism.

Life is like that – you try something, learn from it and then move on to the next leg of the journey. The sooner you get your first job the sooner the journey begins. Sure it can feel scary, but that is no different from any neurotypical teens. Don’t let autism get in the way of finding your first job as a teen.

For more information contact:
Treena Gower-Foster
Program Coordinator Pursuits & Recruits
Phone: 403-605-8297 ext 2010

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