From Autism Transition Handbook

Jump to: navigation, search

Transition to Work
General information for all families

PA/DE families click icons for general+state information
Plus PA.png Plus DE.png


Transition to Work

Whether a job provides financial support, personal fulfillment, social opportunities, or some combination of these, it is a very important component of adult life. In fact, what one does for a living is often regarded as a defining feature of that person and his role in society. Finding the right employment match for a student with ASD may be challenging, but the rewards can also be great in terms of personal satisfaction in a job well done and as an active, participating, well-regarded member of society.

IDEA Federal special education law requires that school districts help students with disabilities make the transition from school to work and life as an adult. Although IDEA mandates services and programs while your young adult is in school, there are no federally mandated programs or services for individuals once they leave the school system. This means that your adolescent will need to make the most of this transition period to develop his life skills and prepare for entering the work force.

Broad Timeline for Middle School and High School

When is it the Right Time to Begin Exploring Employment Opportunities?

It is never too early to begin planning for the school to employment transition. Part of this planning process involves exploring career guides and resources to provide a better idea available careers. Also, there are a number of pre-requisite skills that are important for individuals with ASD to acquire as early as possible depending on the future job of interest. Having these early pre-requisite skills, specifically strong functional skills and social skills, can help ensure that your young adult is in a position to pursue meaningful employment.

Functional skills include a broad area of skills needed in order to be successful or “function” to meet the demands of everyday life, and are critical components to ensuring on the job success. Examples include self-help skills (e.g., bathing, teeth brushing, dressing, toileting skills), functional academics such as being able to read or understand safety skills, math skills that involve using money, counting change, and reading receipts, making budgets, and making sure that these skills are generalized, or can be used across multiple environments. In addition, it is also important to consider what functional skills are needed to pursue a career in field your son or daughter may want to work. For example, if your son or daughter is especially interested in working in a library, it is important to have more specified, functional knowledge of how to work within a library.

Social skills are another set of key skills that need to be developed at a young age to ensure your young-adult can be employed in meaningful contexts. Important social skills to have in employment settings vary depending on job demands, but often include the ability to initiate and respond to greetings, being able to request and ask for breaks and help, avoiding violations of others’ personal space, and refraining from disruptive behaviors.

See Also:
Devereux's Adolescent Skills Assessment Worksheet: This resource provides a number of different skills important for assessing pre-vocational readiness.

Since the needs of individuals with autism spectrum are so different, there is no one way to plan for and find meaningful employment. However, the outline below provides some general steps parents should consider based on the age of their young adult. The following information was adapted from the Organization for Autism Research's publication, Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Transition to Adulthood, and the Pennsylvania’s Department of Health’s Document, Transition to Adult Living in Pennsylvania.

Middle and Early High School Considerations Later High School Considerations
Learn more about available careers Reassess interests and capabilities based on real-world experiences and redefine goals as necessary.
Identify particular interests that could lead to a career through exposure to real jobs Become involved in early work experiences, particularly those emphasizing workbased or on-the-job learning experiences, including volunteering, job sampling (i.e., trying out a job for several hours or days), internship programs, and summer jobs.
Take part in vocational assessment activities in the community through “job sampling” Identify transportation options for getting to and from work, as well as other community-based options; determine to what extent your young adult will need to develop the skills related to using public transportation
Identify training needs and strategies to address deficits Identify gaps in knowledge or skills that need to be addressed.
Ensure that there are sufficient opportunities to develop competencies in independence, self-monitoring, travel training, and life outside the classroom. If applicable, learn the basics of the interview process and practice being interviewed.
Learn more about school-to-work programs in the community, which offer opportunities for training and employment through job sampling, youth apprenticeships, cooperative education, tech-prep, mentorships, independent study, and internships. Develop effective disclosure strategies relative to your young adult’s abilities and needs.
Contact the DVR or ADD agency and/or the Social Security Administration before age 16 to determine eligibility for services or benefits post-graduation. Identify critical skill deficits that may impede the transition to post-21 life and provide individualized instruction to minimize the deficits.

What Jobs are Available for Individuals with Autism?

The employment available for an individual with ASD reflects the breadth of the entire job market. Generally, a job may belong to any of three categories that vary in the amount of support they offer the worker with a disability. Ranging from least to most supportive, these categories are Competitive employment, Supported employment, and Secured or segregated employment although neither is mutually exclusive, and an individual may find employment in more than one category.

Secured/Segregated Supported Competitive
  • Segregated
  • Community integration
  • Fully integrated into general work force
  • Focus on group learning
  • Ongoing job support
  • Requires special skills
  • Basic skills building
  • Wages and benefits
  • Natural supports and natural consequences
  • Minimal compensation or unpaid
  • Place first, then train
  • Employment supports offered as needed
  • Behavioral supports in place through job tenure
  • Flexible, wide-ranging supports in place that are personalized

  • Built-in "safety net"

Integrated Employment refers to jobs held by people with the most significant disabilities in typical workplace settings where the majority of persons employed are not persons with disabilities. In these jobs, the individuals with disabilities earn wages consistent with wages paid workers without disabilities in the community performing the same or similar work; the individuals earn at least minimum wage, and they are paid directly by the employer.

Refer to the Integrated Employment Toolkit, which offers relevant practical information and resources to help members of targeted audiences understand and implement integrated employment as they support individuals with disabilities. A collection of resources, reports, papers, policies, fact sheets, case studies, and discussion guides from a variety of sources are available to accommodate a full range of users and increase capacity and understanding about the value and potential of integrated employment. It is organized by different audiences or perspectives. Within each audience, there are commonly-asked questions to guide the user to the appropriate materials.

See also: website which covers innovative initiatives, policies, strategies or activities occurring at state ID/DD agencies.

Employment First is a concept to facilitate the full inclusion of people with the most significant disabilities in the workplace and community. Under the Employment First approach, community-based, integrated employment is the first option for employment services for youth and adults with significant disabilities. The Employment First State Leadership Mentor Program helps states align policies, regulations, and funding priorities to encourage integrated employment as the primary outcome for individuals with significant disabilities.

What is the Best Way to Search for a Job?

Look to see what employment options are currently available in your area. Networking among friends, colleagues, and acquaintances will often be your best job search strategy. Once opportunities are identified, find out what kinds of skills your young adult will need to be successful in those environments. Then, identify what supports your young adult might require to do this job. This exercise can be done in advance of an actual job search to start your thinking about these topics. Think “Job carving.” The charts in Appendix: Job Ideas offer more lists and details of possible jobs that both low functioning and higher functioning individuals on the spectrum may enjoy based on their interests and thinking styles.

Job Match
When searching for jobs for your young adult with ASD, it is important to consider the match between your son and a particular job’s social, navigation, and production requirements. This “job match” is the extent to which a particular job meets an individual’s needs in terms of challenge, interest, comfort, camaraderie, status, hours, pay, and benefits. Generally, as people move through the job market over time, they get closer and closer to an ideal job match. Individuals on the spectrum may not be as motivated by money as their neurotypical coworkers are. So, for the majority of individuals with autism, their motivation to work will be directly related to the extent to which they enjoy the work they are being asked to do. A good match is of critical importance in these cases. When considering things that contribute to job match, they can be classified into physical and social components.

RecruitDisability Job Board is designed to help individuals with disabilities find employment opportunities. One can browse jobs, post resumes and cover letters, see which employers are hiring, and research salaries in order to find the best job fit. This is an easy tool to use for applying to jobs and an excellent resource.

See Also:

The Range of Possible Jobs for Individuals with Autism

The Institute for Community Inclusion's real work stories Career one stop offers a variety of online worksheets to help people identify their work skills, abilities, and interests. 

American Academy of Pediatrics report on Postsecondary Education and Employment Among Youth With an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Fact Sheet on Autism Employment

Employment Challenges Facing Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Speaks Employment Think Tank

Autism Speaks Employment Took Kit

Innovative Employment Opportunities For Individuals with Autism

There are new models for employment emerging for people with autism. In the following programs, individuals with autism work side by side with others for competitive wages and without permanent job coaching.

Aspiritech headquartered in Chicago, which employs high-functioning adults with autism as part of a workforce that conducts domestic software testing and provides other quality assurance (QA) services. Individuals with high functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome are often quite good with computer systems. Aspiritech contracts to do software testing for software development companies. Aspiritech hires people with high-functioning autism or Asperger's and then trains them to do software testing. Errors often arise when a software developer creates a new program in how all the parts interact. These are usually subtle errors which can only be found by "running it through its paces" with intensity and focus. The Aspiritech staff are trained to do that and document exactly the tests they ran and any issues they discovered. The business model is based on a group in Denmark called Specialisterne. Groups in Belgium, UK, Israel, and Japan are also using this model. Contact Brenda or Moshe Weitzberg at the following contact form:

Arthur & Friends, based in Newton, NJ, operates greenhouses that employ disabled adults who grow and market hydroponic produce.

At the Autistic Global Initiative in San Diego, members on the autism spectrum provide professional and consulting services to a range of industries.

AutonomyWorks in Chicago leverages the unique talents and abilities of people with autism to deliver technology services, such as website maintenance, reporting and quality assurance, to companies of all sizes.

Beneficial Beans is a Phoenix-based café that trains adults with autism spectrum disorders and provides employment opportunities.

Extraordinary Ventures is a non-profit organization based in Chapel Hill, NC that creates and nurtures self-sustaining small businesses designed around the skills of the young adults with autism and developmental disabilities that serve as its workforce.

Knack is a company that uses games to quantify exactly what individuals are good at and is particularly well-suited for those on the spectrum due to the non-threatening nature of games. Knack's games are designed to evaluate specific attributes and skills—both for the benefit of individuals via a forthcoming smartphone application and employers who will have a quantitative way of evaluating a candidate’s performance.

Inclusion Films Workshop in Burbank, CA provides vocational training and an entry-level knowledge of film and TV production to adults with developmental disabilities.

Lee & Marie’s Cakery in Miami Beach works with the University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities to provide job training and employment to adults across the autism spectrum.

nonPareil Institute in Plano, TX provides training in technology services, particularly app development, and employment to individuals with ASD.

Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn based in Louisburg, KS was started to create an opportunity for Joe Steffy, a young adult with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, to run his own business. Today, the company employs several part-time workers and sells snacks at fairs, craft shows, car shows and events throughout Kansas and Missouri.

Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, FL has created a system that breaks the car washing process into 46 distinct steps so families affected by autism can operate car washing businesses.

Roses for Autism In 2009, historic Pinchbeck Rose Farm was about to go out of business due to staffing issues and overseas competition. A Local man with a son with autism realized that the common features of people with autism make a good match for the staffing needs of commercial rose production. Roses for Autism was the result, resurrecting Pinchbeck Rose Farm and forging a new path for autism employment. Contact Joan Volpe, Roses for Autism / Ability Beyond Disability, at

TIAA-CREF Fruits of Employment is an investment firm that has been purchasing farms around the world to diversify its investment portfolio. Two of the farms on the U.S. Pacific Coast are developing innovative employment projects for adults with autism aimed at integrating these adults in the traditional farm workforce of the agricultural industry. See more information at the following article: Why Autism Employment Makes Business Sense for Agriculture. Contact Heather Davis, Head of Global Private Markets, through the TIAA-CREF Media Office at or at 888-200-4062.

Ultra Testing is a New York based company that provides high quality software testing services through onshore teams of exceptional testers. ULTRA’s competitive advantage comes from employing high functioning individuals on the Autism Spectrum, who can have the exact skill set required for software testing, e.g. pattern recognition, attention to detail, tolerance for repetition.

Waggies by Maggie & Friends based in Wilmington, DE employs adults with intellectual disabilities to bake, package and market all-natural dog treats.

Walgreen's Disability Inclusion Program Walgreens opened two regional distribution centers programmed to include a large percentage of employees with disabilities. Individuals are hired because their abilities fit the job positions with the goal of making disabilities irrelevant to the hiring process. Contact Deb Russell, Manager of Outreach and Employee Services via Walgreens Media Office at

words Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ operates as a training facility so adults with autism can learn retail job skills and move on to larger companies.

Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership creates and supports programs that promote long-term employment for individuals with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and high functioning autism (HFA) by educating employers about the benefits of hiring individuals with AS or HFA and the accommodations they may require, developing partnerships between Employers and Vocational Rehabilitation professionals to create a successful workplace environment, and providing Managers and colleagues of AS/HFA employees with an understanding of the behavioral differences perhaps seen in their autism spectrum co-workers.

Project SEARCH is an employer-based internship program that provides young adults with disabilities on-the-job training through real work experiences. Competitive employment in an integrated setting is the goal of a Project SEARCH internship. The Project SEARCH model was developed at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital and can now be found at many locations across the US. For more information see

Waivers for Employment and Employment Related Services

In September 2011 the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services released a bulletin which is intended to provide guidance on waiver supports available to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Each state has the flexibility to design its own service definitions and modify CMS core service definitions, although many rely on CMS language for their waiver core service definitions. These new guidelines cover the following:

  • Highlights the importance of competitive work for people with and without disabilities and CMS’s goal to promote integrated employment options through the waiver program
  • Acknowledges best and promising practices in employment support, including self direction and peer support options for employment support
  • Clarifies that Ticket to Work Outcome and Milestone payments are not in conflict with payment for Medicaid services rendered because both Ticket to Work and Milestone payments are made for an outcome, not service delivery
  • Adds a new core service definition- by splitting what had previously been supported employment into two definitions- individual and small group supported employment
  • Includes a new service definition for career planning, that may be separate or rolled into the other employment related service definitions
  • Emphasizes the critical role of person centered planning in achieving employment outcomes
  • Modifies both the prevocational services and supported employment definitions to clarify that volunteer work and other activities that are not paid, integrated community employment are appropriately described in pre-vocational, not supported employment services
  • Explains that pre-vocational services are not an end point, but a time limited (although no specific limit is given) service for the purpose of helping someone obtain competitive employment

Click here to read the bulletin.

For more information on services covered see the following: Waiver Funded Services for Transitioning to Work

Research Evidence for Effectiveness of Vocational Programs

A Systematic Review of Vocational Interventions for Young Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorders concluded that few studies have been conducted to assess vocational interventions for adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder, so there is very little evidence available for specific vocational treatment approaches as individuals transition to adulthood. However, individual studies on this subject suggest that vocational programs may increase employment success for some. This article from Reuters discusses the findings from the study: Do job programs for autistic adults work?.

The summary report, Promising and Emerging Practices for Enhancing the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities included in Plans Submitted by Federal Agencies, identifies promising and emerging practices for advancing the recruitment, hiring, and retention of individuals with disabilities.

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is an evidence-based intervention that targets pivotal areas of an individual's development, such as motivation, response to multiple cues, and initiation of social interactions. These pivotal areas underlie the foundational skills needed for improvements in communication, social, and behavioral aspects. Developed by Dr. Robert L. Koegel and Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel, PRT is both comprehensive in its uses and empirically supported. To learn more about PRT, please visit: Koegel Autism. The Koegel Autism Center has also helped students with autism enter the workplace by using the PRT method as summarized in this article.


Transition to Work Resources

Transition to Work Providers


The Current State of Services for Adults with Autism (2009). Gerhardt (Ed.)  Organization for Autism Research. 

Transition to Adult Living in Pennsylvania (2010). Pennsylvania Department of Health. 

Acknowledgement: The sections on Finding and Ensuring Success on the Job are reprinted here with the kind permission of the Organization for Autism Research, from their publication, Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Transition to Adulthood.  This excellent resource is available for download at the Organization for Autism Research's website at