Joanne Lara sees too much of what she calls the “school-to-couch” model. “Fifty thousand kids a year in this country are graduating high school with autism, with no place to go,” says the executive director of Autism Works Now (AWN), an innovative nonprofit that teaches workplace-readiness skills.
They end up on their parents’ couch because they don’t know how to find and keep a job – and because their parents, after years of arranging therapies, services and education, didn’t realize their kids would need job skills, too.
Job interviews are the first hurdle. Moms and dads should never call to arrange one for their child, but should offer advice about what to wear and how to answer interview questions. “The very last one is always, ‘Why should we hire you?’ and our kids say, ‘I don’t know,’” Lara says.
She suggests role play. Have your child knock, come into the room, shake your hand and take a seat. Then go over questions they might be asked. “When they know the interview script, they do much better,” Lara says. For that tricky last question, make a list of your child’s strengths, which might include computer skills, attention to detail, that they are a hard worker or that they always show up on time.
AWN offers classes where candidates ages 17 and up with autism learn to identify job options, gain interview and workplace skills and take field trips to local businesses to meet hiring managers and senior executives. Founded in 2015, the organization received a Community Grant from Autism Speaks last year and will soon be vendored by Westside Regional Center.
Lara and AWN Director Susan Osborn have also written a book, “Teaching Employment Skills to 14-17 Year Olds,” due out in September. The book, targeted to parents, educators and people with autism, lays out the Autism Works Now method of teaching workplace readiness skills. “It’s like a workbook,” Lara says, adding it is “choc-full of real workplace objectives.” Autism advocate Temple Grandin wrote the foreword.
Families can learn more about the book, AWN’s classes in Woodland Hills and possible new sessions coming to Culver City at www.autismworksnow.org.