So your young person who is on the autism spectrum is offered a job and accepts. That’s great! As a parent or other support person, you hope it goes well and wonder how you can help. The routine takes time to establish, and the social interactions can feel awkward and cause anxiety, especially initially. The young person looking for some concrete rules to follow will likely find the workplace is full of “gray areas” and unclear expectations. What advice can you give him or her?
Working in a job almost always means working with other people. Although there will be specific “hard skills” or technical knowledge that your son or daughter must learn (and they may tend to focus on that aspect), the most important part of the job in terms of finding success at work will likely be the social interactions.
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of people at most jobs that your son or daughter is likely to interact with: bosses/authority figures, co-workers, and customers. The following are some concrete “helpful hints” that you may want to share for each type of person.
They are busy and have a lot of responsibilities. If you need to talk to them about something, it should be to get help that only they can give. You should tell the boss about someone behaving in an unsafe or illegal way, or in a way that makes others uncomfortable. However, someone not doing their job correctly is usually not a reason to speak to the boss. It is wise to check with a trusted person to get advice on any issue you think the boss should know about before speaking to him or her (also see IFAutism.com’s blog “Commenting Rule: Parts One and Two” for more help with this).
Try to get help from a co-worker before you ask the boss for help.
Always smile and make some eye contact when speaking to your boss. Wait for a good time to speak to him or her. This shows respect and is good for your reputation (please see “The Two R’s” blog at IFAutism.com).
Do not embarrass your boss. Do and say things that would make the boss proud.
Do not cause a problem for your boss. You cause a problem for your boss if you do not get along with your co-workers, complain, do not follow through with all your responsibilities, do not communicate when you need to, or if you do not show up for work.
Ask, don’t tell. That means, phrase what you want to say as a question not a statement. It sounds more polite and respectful. For example, “I just finished tagging this group here--are there any others for me to do before I go on my break?” sounds more respectful than “I’m done. I’m taking my break now.”
Show that you care about your job and your boss by always trying to do it right and being positive (“Sure thing”, “I will do it”, “Let me help you”, “Thanks for telling me”, etc).
Be prepared to accept criticism or corrections from your boss--it is their job to make you the best worker you can be!
When you have problems at work, pay attention to your intensity and focus on positivity, especially if you tend to respond to problems negatively (see Problem Perspective blog at IFAutism.com).
Be friendly! Acknowledge each person you work with (see Acknowledging blog at IFAutism.com) whenever you see them. Make sure your body language looks friendly--smile often and make some eye contact.
Even if you are feeling anxious make sure your words are positive (polite, encouraging, upbeat, kind, etc).
Politely (“please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”) ask for help from your co-workers at a good time for them (try not to interrupt their work).
Do as much work as everyone else. If you do less than others then they have to do more--this is bad for your reputation and they may feel resentful!
Blend in with the other workers! (Please see “Blending In” blog at IFAutism.com). Look around and check often to make sure that you are doing what everyone else is doing. If you are doing/saying something different, then you may not be blending in!
Limit talking and watch the body language of others to see if they are interested and if it is a good time to talk. Avoid talking at the wrong time (when others are working), talking too much, or talking a lot about your favorite topics.
The business and your boss depend on customers wanting your services or goods. You must always acknowledge customers (see Acknowledging blog at IFAutism.com), look friendly (smile, some eye contact), and use a polite and respectful voice and positive words with them.
Don’t say anything negative or personal where customers can hear you.
You must always answer a customer’s question. If you can’t answer a customer’s question, say “I don’t know the answer but I will find out for you”. Then go find someone who can help answer their question. (If you feel anxious and uncomfortable when you don’t know the answer to questions, practice saying this ahead of time!).
Here is one last bit of advice that I would share with a young person on the autism spectrum who lands a job: focus on making others feel “comfortable”! You do this by blending, being positive, acknowledging others, and communicating to ask questions and respond to others. If people are comfortable around you at work, you are doing it right!