by Helen Leonard, Director, The Paragon School
Preparing Students for Workplace Success
Equipping students to become contributing members of society is the mission of The Paragon School as well as the goal of every parent whom I have had the pleasure of working with in the first ten years of our program. Despite the statistics which indicate the majority of individuals affected by autism spectrum disorder are unemployed, Paragon is wholeheartedly committed to providing systematic job training to prepare our students to gain and maintain employment.
Developing competencies for successful workplace functioning takes years, so the sooner your child can begin this process, the better! As a parent, you can begin the job training process with your child at an early age through teaching and supervising a daily schedule of household chores. When you think of it from a developmental perspective, the purpose of chores is to train a child to be a contributing member to his or her first community: the family. Performing basic chores such as feeding pets, setting the table, or taking out the trash gives children a sense of accountability and develops confidence. Chores may need to be modified to fit your child’s cognitive and physical abilities, but it is important to provide your child with some chores which will result in the satisfaction of contributing to the best of his or her ability.
Conditioning for the rigors of the workplace begins in middle school and lasts throughout high school for students on the vocational path of The Paragon School. Long-term internships have been developed through local businesses where our students are trained several days a week on the job jointly by Paragon staff and business managers. In addition to learning specific job skills, heavy emphasis is placed on developing self-evaluation skills and communication skills to build independence as a worker. Communication is critical to maintaining employment, so students receive direct instruction in how, when and with whom to communicate about their work. Equally important, students are taught to recognize times during work when talking is not appropriate as well as topics which should not be discussed in a business environment. This approach has resulted in a large percentage of our students securing paid employment during high school and post-graduation.
Many opportunities are available to help students develop competencies for future employment. Seek out volunteer opportunities which provide the chance for parents or educators to work alongside students, training them in systematic work behaviors. Don’t make the mistake of holding out for a dream job for your student or child. Many times, our students develop new interests and display new talents through working. Most of us did not start out at the top, so we should not expect that for our students or children either. Any safe opportunity which can help your child develop new skills, work ethic, problem solving, and flexibility will further prepare him or her for workplace success.
Please visit www.theparagonschool.org for more information about open house dates and the 2017-2018 free Learning Together Educational Lecture Series for parents and professionals.