Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Career Strategies for Students with Aspergers (Autism Spectrum Disorder)

Before I present some of the best practices presented at the recent conference I attended on career strategies for students on the autism spectrum, let me make a few disclaimers. First, I am by no means an expert (or even experienced) in this field. Additionally, as our excellent presenters pointed out, when you meet one student with ASD, you’ve met one student with ASD. That being said, these practices may work for some students and not for others, but isn’t that true for our nuero-typical clients as well? Anyhow, here’s what I learned:

Infuse Academics with Employment
  • Integrate vocational experiences into students’ academics as early as high school to allow students to experience the workplace, reflect on their experiences, and learn appropriate workplace interactions.
Provide Visual Aids
  • Have handouts or written materials that cover and/or review the points you’re making during the conversation. Useful for lots of students, really.
Be Explicit
  • Because students with ASD do not learn intuitively, it is very important that we as career counselors are explicit with our directions. We cannot expect these clients to pick up on our social cues or nuanced suggestions, we’ve got to be explicit when counseling these students on how to behave, act, and market themselves. Additionally, help students with ASD to dissect the jobs they are working in or applying for. What will be the tasks, the social requirements, and physical environments related to this position. Help students to prepare fully, and practice reacting to, as well as acting in these positions.
Don’t Modify Content, Modify Process
  • Students with ASD can be smart. Sometimes really smart. Don’t change the content you’re delivering, rather shift the way you deliver it. See above points for more on this.
Know Your Resources
  • Both at the institution you work at, and in the community. At the end of the day, there’s only so much that we as career counselors and university educators can do. We’re not mental health counselors and perhaps unqualified to provide the intensive services some students with ASD might need. Be in touch with disability services coordinator, as well as have some referrals handy from local non-profits or other relevant services providers.
Finally, our presenters made some recommendations for students with ASD on the job market. They advised us to help our clients look for positions that have all or some of the following elements:

  • Students with ASD to be most successful in environments that have clear and consistent rules. This could include rules regarding acceptable dress, hours, breaks, and activities.
Do Not Require an In-Person Interview
  • Students with ASD do not interview well. Of course, finagling a job without an interview will be a challenge, which is probably why our presenters suggested making the most of family and personal connections when possible. As far as working with ASD clients, our presenters suggested utilizing Skype during mock interviews, as opposed to face-to-face.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Educating Our Students with Aspergers (soon to be Autism Spectrum Disorder)

I recently attended a conference on career strategies for students on the autism spectrum. Besides the fact that the presenters were absolutely fantastic – engaging, funny, and smart – the topic itself was both intriguing and thought provoking. Among the many issues raised, the presenters pointed out that colleges may be admitting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder who, while able to do excel in their coursework, are not able to satisfactorily complete the technical requirements of the program. This, are presenters claimed, is a law-suit waiting to happen. And I agree (in principal at least, have no idea about actual legality), though this issue is in no way at all limited to students with ASD. In fact, institutions of higher education are far too often accepting students (and their tuition dollars) who won’t be able to hack it in the fields they aspire to enter. Students who may be unable to find jobs, despite excellent grades, includes those students with especially poor writing or community skills, as well as specific populations of students, such as the many international students currently studying on American soil who lack English language proficiency. There’s only so much a college or university can teach in 4 years, and, as our presenters suggested, accepting students who are unprepared or unable to master the technical necessities of their careers may be akin to lying, or even robbing them. Of course, the question remains, what is the responsibilities of an institution? What do they owe their students – an education or a job? Despite the fact that this question is highly relevant to my work and studies, it’s also a challenging and contentious one . . . which is why I’m not answering it. At least for now.

Check back next week for more take-aways from this conference, as well as best practices for working with students with ASD.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Be Napoleonic

At professional conferences, I usually steer clear of sessions designed to facilitate participants’ personal and professional growth. While this certainly isn’t a good thing, I can’t help but feel that in an industry where we’re constantly focusing on career development, I’d rather spend those valuable conference hours concentrating on larger issues like strategy, big picture questions, and tangible best practices. That being said, at an excellent conference I attended last week, I found myself in a session entitled: “Managing Your Boss” or How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Job! There were many great take-homes from this engaging session, but for the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to concentrate on just one.

Among the success strategies presented for “managing your boss,” the one that stuck out most in my mind was this advice: Be Napoleonic. No, not short and French. Rather, follow Napoleon’s commitment to completed staff work. Apparently, one of Napoleon’s generals was suffering huge losses during the attack of something or other. And he came to Napoleon’s tent to report as much. Napoleon’s answer? What are you going to do about it! You see, Napoleon wanted his staff to bring him solutions, not problems.

Alright, by now you probably know where I’m going with this, but just to be clear . . . don’t just come to your boss with problems. Instead, show them what you can do. Say that a week before a big event, you’re still 15 participants short of the number you’d hoped for. Rather than simply letting your boss know you’re screwed, tell her what the problem is, what steps you’ve already taken, who you’ve reached out, where you’re continuing to publicize the event, and what your plan is going forward. Bien?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Update Your Resume!

A resume is always a work in progress.  I encourage both students and adults to reflect on and update their resumes frequently, so that at a moment's notice it is "ready to  go."  Students will want to take some time in August, before the start of school, to make sure they've included their most recent summer work or internship, study abroad or travel experiences, and relevant coursework or course projects from the previous semester.  However, even seasoned professionals should give their resume a yearly once-over.  Have you read over your resume entries to make sure what you've highlighted accurately captures your most recent and most impressive accomplishments?  Have you added the new software or skills you've learned?  What about the latest professional association you've joined?  Don't wait until someone is waiting on you.  The best time to reflect on and update your resume is now, when you're not planning on using it anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is the Master's the New Bachelor's Degree? Or, Should I Go To Graduate School?

A recent New York Times article titled The Master's As The New Bachelor's addresses a trend I've already noticed: the decision or desire to go straight into graduate school for lack of other options.  The comment from new graduate William Klein, “it’s pretty apparent that with the degree I have right now, there are not too many jobs I would want to commit to” seems to echo what I'm hearing from a lot of recent and soon to be grads making the decision to apply immediately to graduate school.  Several students have said to me, "When I look at the jobs I want, they all require a Master's degree, so that's why I'm going to get one first."  Yet the question beckons, will a Master's degree suffice?  It will not replace a lack of work experience, worldliness, and the knowledge of a field that only comes from interacting within it, outside the confines of ivy covered buildings.  I fear that these students, unwilling to settle for entry-level jobs, may opt instead for what they see as an alternative route to success (i.e. graduate school), a comfortable route they know well from their proven track record of 16 years of academic success.

Of course, to a large extent, the actual necessity of graduate school is industry specific.  To practice law, you need a law degree.  But, in higher education for instance, you're likely better off securing some experience, before attaining the Master's degree.  Additionally, the value of your degree may lie, not only in the program's reputation, but also in the practical skills you will learn as a result of engaging in its coursework.  Is their an internship component? A strong alumni network?  Without experience in the field prior to entering a graduate program, you will need a lot more guidance and practical skills than some of your more mature counterparts. 

Additionally, the decision to enter graduate school is one with serious financial implications, one which can be decided on that much more judiciously by spending some years in the field,  thereby allowing for increased maturity, as well as career exploration.  Had I entered graduate school immediately after college I'd still be working my way towards a PhD in history, a decision which I'd likely regret based on my own, learned, personal work place preferences and interests. I'm not saying that a Master's isn't the right route for some recent grads, but I definitely don't think it's the new Bachelor's Degree.  If anything, I think it's recent graduates expectations regarding their post-graduate job options that be what's shifting.