Next June, What Will Your Students Say About Their Career Transition Preparation?  | Autism Spectrum and Special Needs | Jackie M. Marquette Ph.D.

Don’t ignore emotional well-being and adaptation in preparing youth with Autism Spectrum and Special Needs for jobs, careers, and college. My article give 5 necessary points.

[Actual Persons]:

An 18-year old male with autism received a scholarship to study chemistry at a prominent university. After 6 weeks, his parents were called to come and get him because he rarely left his room. He was found fearfully curled up in the corner of his dorm room.

A 23-year old male with autism quit his job at a big box store after 15 months of being recognized as a good employee. A new manager failed to inform him about a change that would effect him directly. The sudden change placed the young man with new work tasks and among new unfamiliar coworkers. He didn’t adapt.

A 16 year old female attempted suicide several times because she lived in fear of being bullied. Although she is alright now, she still becomes anxious with the memories that she can’t let go.

Of each one of these case studies, students were not able to emotionally adapt. I believe a gap exists between what students receive and what they need in order to make effective school transitions into the adult world. 

Most school’s career transition programs focus on cognitive levels, academic strengths, and test scores, but these factors don’t prepare youth for the external demands to socially and emotionally adapt in this world.

Numerous studies in Positive Psychology and Disability on decision-making of people with intellectual disability and Autism Spectrum indicate these students exhibit limited social and emotional skills which greatly limits their ability to make decisions. When a student has limitations in making a decision, this greatly impacts their emotional state. Thus, studies indicate a students’ health and safety can be jeopardized, making youth a high risk to suffer harm. 

The Transition Gap: 

Student career effectiveness lies in the gaps of preparation in exploring career interests in safe settings and adapting emotionally to attain career goals.

Here are a five important objectives that may help fill the gap to prepare youth in school career transition programs. 

1. Our youth rely on safe exposure to new settings, new tasks, and new unfamiliar people.

Peter Vermeulen in his article writes about Autism as Context Blindness and indicates an autism friendly environment to be 90% clarity and 10% predictability and 10% normal friendliness. 

Design a plan with the student to take part in a stress-free setting; which may be an event, work setting, or a daily living activity. Include predictable steps for a task and among people who are supportive and encouraging to the student.

2. Youth rely on tools that can create predictability and clarity in order to make good decisions. Design the environment to be clear and well understood so the student can navigate and adapt. 

3. Youth rely upon opportunities to have positive job tryout experiences where they can perform and feel safe. Promote learning within a safe context in order the student can practice and perform. Why? Because when clarity and predictability are in place, the student feels emotions of safety.

4. Youth rely upon self-awareness practice in order to self-advocate. This practice includes a focus on recognition of one’s emotions. The process of self-advocating requires making decisions to move through challenging situations. Create opportunities for student self-awareness practice. Dr. Barry M. Prizant in his book, Uniquely Human: A different way of seeing autism writes that developing self-awareness is one of the top priorities he suggests for parents of children with autism to build success for adulthood. 

Students need to practice recognition of h-her emotions, both low and high. Guide student to reflect upon the bright spots from their experience regardless if the experience was satisfying or unsatisfying. Point out to the student the bright spots and lessons to be learned so the experience can be more positive next time.

5. As a leader/professional set aside time to focus on your own self-awareness. I am far from perfect, but I engage in self-awareness practice daily. Reflect upon your decisions. Note the decisions you made that led to a good outcome, or decisions that turned into less than favorable outcomes with frustrating emotions. Don’t sweep the emotions under the rug. Notice them and the gift they deliver.

I began this article with this question, Next June, What Will Your Students Say About Their Career Transition Readiness? 

As a leader preparing youth for school transition, what do you hope your young person/student will say about their career readiness experiences? What story do you hope they tell about their progress and eagerness to go out into the world of work or college studies?


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Dr. Jackie Marquette, is an Autism Career Strategist, online course creator, researcher, and parent of an adult son with autism. In 2007 she received a Ph.D. from University of Louisville. Jackie has 3 decades of professional experience as a teacher in special education, district transition consultant, consultation with young adults and their families, an autism evaluation service to the clients of Vocational Rehabilitation counselors. She has 4 decades of personal experience guiding and supporting her son who has autism to live a life of well-being and self-determination. The tools she created are powerful and can: 1) assure the student/young adult of their career possibilities, uniqueness, and one-of-a-kind self-expression and, 2) guide and support a student/young adult to take steps to emotionally adapt, progress, and safely pursue a job/career.

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