Transitioning College Students with Asperger’s Syndrome to the World of Work: Implications for Career Counselors
By Abiola Dipeolu and Cassandra A. Storlie
Career development services emerged based on the need to serve underrepresented groups in society (Dipeolu, 2009). In 1909, Frank Parsons advocated for underserved citizens by initiating the first career development program in the city of Boston. More recently, providing career development services to underrepresented groups, such as college students with Asperger’s Syndrome, is a welcome addition to this time honored tradition. Transitions can be particularly challenging for college students with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and the transition from adolescence to adulthood may be extremely stressful and difficult (Temple & Duffy, 2008). Without specialized interventions, these students may experience increased frustration, depression and anxiety, which can create further isolation (Atwood, 1998). Gradual and incremental transition services for post college employment are an important linchpin for the success of AS students on college campuses (Fast, 2010) For those who successfully graduate from institutions of higher education, obtaining gainful employment becomes another hurdle to tackle (Temple & Duffy, 2008). The purpose of this article is to introduce considerations for AS college students transitioning to the world of work and to provide tools for career counselors to use with this unique population.
Considerations for College Students with Asperger’s Syndrome
Career counselors may open the door to new possibilities by removing potential barriers and building on the personal strengths of college students with disabilities (Dipeolu, Storlie, & Johnson, in press). Historically, colleges have concentrated on individuals with physical, cognitive and sensory needs (Fast, 2010), and career counseling professionals may have limited experience working with students with AS or autism spectrum disorders. With one in sixty-three children showing symptoms of AS (CDC, 2007), it can be a difficult and challenging disorder for students and families. Career counselors should possess a positive outlook and attitude, as research supports this as an influential factor in the overall success of students with AS (Fast, 2010).
To enhance the career success of Asperger students, career counselors must assist students by teaching effective transitioning skills. These include:
- understanding their disability,
- becoming a self-advocate,
- developing realistic goals,
- enhancing social and job hunting skills, and
- maintaining good mental health.
Additional skills may include how to effectively use free time, locating help and assistance when necessary, adhering to organization and time management, and negotiating for their best interest. Career counseling is essential in the quest for successful transition experiences for students with AS. Specialized career interventions are effective in providing the necessary skills to become a fully engaged, employed member of society (Fast, 2010).
Career Counseling Strategies for College Students with Asperger’s Syndrome
Inform students about relevant legislation in higher education and in workplace settings.
The ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and FERPA are all relevant laws that govern services provided in higher education (Wolf et al., 2009). However, laws governing the workplace include accommodations that employers must make to assist individuals with disabilities. Periodic breaks and decreased exposure to over-stimulating environments are reasonable accommodations for individuals with AS to request.
Assess student strengths and minimize social and executive functional deficits.
Assist students with AS to identify their personal strengths and to investigate careers that will
accentuate their talents. Discuss the importance of job-fit and practice compensatory techniques for functional limitations while in session. Recognizing strengths and weaknesses are essential insights for all employees. If warranted, link the student to Vocational Rehabilitation programs that can further assist the student.
Learning to work as a team, having business etiquette, and getting along with co-workers are essential social skills for a healthy work environment. Most importantly, counselors can work with AS students to master how to read coworkers’ emotions and social cues (Temple & Duffy, 2008). These social skills are imperative during the job search, interview stage, and overall career trajectory (Chapel & Somers, 2010; Dipeolu, et al. in press).
Encourage a satisfying career with healthy and adaptable work environments.
Card sorts are techniques students with AS can use to fully engage in discussion about their talents and strengths for a future satisfying career. Friendly and flexible work environments may be the best setting for students with AS to excel. Once a suitable occupation is chosen, it is important to discuss how the disability may impact effective job performance (Fast, 2010).
Practice and rehearse job interviewing skills.
Job hunting and time management skills are essential, but good interviewing skills may be the key that unlocks the door to career possibilities. Role play and rehearsal with audio/video recordings of mock job interviews can be discussed in session to help develop successful interview skills (Dipeolu, et al. in press). This allows for students with AS to self-evaluate and identify areas they can strengthen to support their occupational goals.
Assist students in creating a stress management plan.
Managing stress and adjusting to a new work environment is crucial (Fast, 2010). Career professionals may want to devote time to address work and social situations that may precipitate stress and then practice healthy ways of coping. Linking students with AS to effective and trained mentors may further develop network connections to help individuals manage difficult situations.
Although many interventions can be listed to help college students transition to the world of work, these authors found the aforementioned strategies to be essential interventions while working with this population. Teaching appropriate transitional skills can mean the difference of these students living independently as adults, or under the supervision of adults (Dipeolu, et al. in press; Wolf et al., 2009). The obstacles faced by these students are daunting, but by focusing on specialized strategies, career professionals can guide these students through successful transition to the adult world of work. Let’s do it again for the next 100 years!
Happy Anniversary, NCDA! Celebrate NCDA's centennial in Boston at the Global Career Development Conference, July 8-10, 2013. The keynote speaker for the opening session is Dr. Temple Grandin, an autistic child and later named Time Magazine's 2010 “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” Her 2011 book "The Way I See it: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's" is the revised and expanded 2nd edition.
Atwood, T. (1998). Asperger’s Syndrome. London: Jessica Kinglsey.
Centers for Disease Control. (2011). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html.
Chappel, S.L., & Somers, B.C. (2010). Employing persons with autism spectrum disorders: Acollaborative effort. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 32: 117-124. DOI:10.3233/JVR 2010-0501.
Dipeolu, A. (2009). Teaching career development professionals to work with individuals withdisabilities. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal,25, 97-106.
Dipeolu, A., Storlie, C., & Johnson, C. (in press) College students with asperger syndrome: Best practices for successful transition to the world of work Journal of College Counseling.
Fast, Y. (2010). Employment for individuals with Asperger syndrome or non-verbal learningdisability. Jessica Kingsley Publisher, London.
Temple, G. & Duffy, K. (2008). Developing talents: Careers for individuals with Aspergersyndrome and high functioning autism. Autism Asperger Publishing Company. Shawn Mission, Kansas.
Wolf, L. E., Thierfeld, J. & Bork, G. R. (2009). Students with Asperger Syndrome: A guide forcollege personnel. Autism Asperger Publishing Company. Shawn Mission, Kansas.
Abiola Dipeolu, Ph.D., LP, is an Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, School, & Education Psychology, University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. Her research interests include career development of people with disabilities, career interventions for individuals with ADHD and LD, and post-school transition issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cassandra A. Storlie is a doctoral candidate in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program at the University of Iowa and has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor at Kent State University beginning Fall 2013. Her research interests include social justice and collaboration efforts among counseling professionals to assist in healthy career development of marginalized populations. She can be reached at email@example.com.