With statistics showing young adults with autism struggling in the job market, a locally based website is quietly committed to helping reverse that trend – for free.
Last April, education website Do2Learn.com launched JobTIPS, a web-based employment skills program with a focus on individuals with autism. One year later, the site hit 35,000 unique visitors.
“We often hear from folks who have experienced a lot of failure in the past and are struggling,” said Louise Southern, JobTIPS content director. “This helps them as they are trying to navigate the process.”
A study published this month in Pediatrics journal shows that one in three young adults with autism seven years out of high school has no paid job experience and no college or technical schooling. Individuals with autism may face challenges securing or keeping a job because of challenges with communication, both verbal and nonverbal, Southern said. They can have difficulty reading others’ facial expressions or body language, for example, or take figures of speech too literally.
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“If they’re going to work, some of the guys I coached viewed that to mean you don’t take a break,” said David Laxton, spokesman for the Autism Society of North Carolina. “I said no, you have to take a break, it’s the law.”
Raleigh-based researcher and computer engineer Dorothy Strickland founded the Do2Learn education website and believes in providing free, web-based education material to make sure all families of individuals with autism have access to support and resources.
JobTIPS is part of that plan. The program is broken into four job search components. The first section determines the participant’s interests. The second section is a guide to job-finding strategies from networking to job fairs. The third section details how to get a job, with information on resumes, cover letters and job interviews. From there, the site details the communication and socialization skills needed to stay employed.
The project is free to the public, supported by a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Need for future support
The Triangle has a larger number of children or family members on the autism spectrum than any other part of the state, Laxton said. The wealth of support services in this area are a “magnet” for families looking for resources. Wake County alone has nearly three times the number of the county that comes in second, he said.
“In a couple of years, they’re going to be moving on, figuring out how to go to college or live in the community,” Laxton said. “This is an important topic going forward – we’re going to have a wave of folks looking to go into the workforce.”
Project set to grow
JobTIPS is partnering with the Autism Society of North Carolina to use the JobTIPS website for a 12-week class for participants with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s. The first round of students just completed the program; so far, several have landed job interviews and one has landed a permanent job, Southern said.
While JobTIPS is intended as a self-directed tool, the group is using the second portion of the grant to work on “Transition Toolbox,” a free web-based curriculum developed by clinical psychologists, educators and vocational rehabilitation experts from around the Triangle.