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www.autismdigest.com | May 2023 – July 2023


Many people tell me that there is a lack of accommodations to help make autistic teenagers successful at work. When people discuss this issue, they often fail to discuss the specific accommodations that may be needed.


During my many discussions with parents, teachers, and employers, I have learned that there are three basic problems that need to be addressed. They are sensory issues, problems with rapid multi-tasking, and remembering long sequences of verbal instructions.


The number one sensory issue in an indoor environment is lighting. Some individuals with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or head injuries can see flickering from either florescent or LED lights. For others who don’t understand the impact of flickering lights, you can make a video of the lights in slow motion on your phone, which often can detect lights that flicker. It is important to make sure that the video is played back in slow motion to understand its impact. The solution to this problem for an employee is to have him sit near a window or place a strong lamp that does not flicker at the person’s work station.


Avoid Rapid Multi-Tasking Jobs

Jobs that should be avoided for those on the autism spectrum are those who require the ability involving rapid multitasking. Some examples are a busy food take-out window, a chaotic store during the holiday rush, or a short-order cook.


Jobs that are more likely to be successful are retail sales, cake decorating , or fixing cars. In these jobs, the person works with either one customer or one vehicle at a time. An example of a simple accommodation made at a McDonald’s restaurant is to switch the autistic employee from the cash register to cleaning tables when the store gets busy.


Create an External Working Memory with A Pilot’s Checklist

If I was a computer, I would be an Intel 286 with unlimited warehouses full of computers for pictorial memories. I have very little working memory.


Many jobs have been lost because the boss rapidly lists a long string of verbal instructions. The autistic employee usually can’t remember the sequence of the tasks. For any task that has a sequence, I need to create a written a “pilot’s checklist” of the steps.


Some examples of jobs where a written checklist may be required are closing out a cash register at the end of the day or jobs where the employee already knows the sequence of tasks he is required to perform. Jobs have been lost, because an employee on the autism spectrum could not remember the things he was supposed to do each day. Why not? His tasks change every day. The employee should tell the boss “Pilots need a checklist, and I need one too” and it really should only require few minutes to write down bullet points listing the tasks, so the autistic employee can accomplish the tasks.


If I had to learn how to do the computer part of a gate agent’s job at the airport, I would need to write down the keystrokes required for each task, such as printing a boarding pass or gate-checking a bag. Then, I would have to take the keystroke list home to practice them. I would never be able to learn this by watching somebody else typing the list, because my working memory is almost nonexistent. On the other hand, I would excel at other things that most gate agents could not do, such as figuring out how to improve the baggage on conveyors or how to prevent frozen jet bridges (all-weather dry access to aircraft that enhances the security of terminal operations). This is where I could excel.


A job coach may ask, why does the keystroke task overload my working memory and fixing a conveyor does not? It is due to processing speed. When I figure out how to fix a piece of equipment, I may spend five minutes looking at it. However, the keystroke task is too abstract and rapid. It also requires remembering patterns instead of creating videos in our minds to show how something works. 


Temple is an internationally-respected

specialist in designing livestock handling

systems. She is also the most famous

person with autism in the world today.

She is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning

HBO biopic Temple Grandin.

She frequently writes and speaks on the

subject of autism, sharing her personal

experiences.

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