Will Work for Cash.
May 3, 2007 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I've been "mentoring" a kid with Asperger's Syndrome for years. He's about to graduate from High School and he needs a Summer job. I need recommendations on how to make this as smooth as possible for him.

I've known this kid since he was 11, I fixed his first computer and gave him his first PowerMac (his true obsession). He comes from a home that could politely be described as dysfunctional. If all goes according to plan he'll be moving out on his own after graduation, but he's going to need a job, but he's never held one before. Hell, today's the first day he's gotten to school and back without a ride from his mother. This is a very big step for him.

As stated above, his fixation is computers, specifically Macs, but I see little chance of him holding down a job as a "Genius" at the local Apple store, as he has a number of the typical Asperger's issues regarding social interaction. He's sharp as hell and eager to earn his own way, but he lacks polish.

What I need is advice on what sorts of work would fit his general situation, and what I can do to make the transition for dependence to independence as painless as possible for him. I can probably get him a job here at the printing company I work for, which would be a good long-term skill to get him through college, but I'd like to see what the Hive Mind has to say about what might be best for him first.
posted by lekvar to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I know that in Illinois we have a government agency called the Department of Rehabilitative Services. There might be something similar in your state. Basically it's an agency devoted to helping adults with disabilities become independent. They help with finding jobs, job coaching, finding housing, everything. And they have access to things and places you might not have access to. If the kid has a formal diagnosis (and the paperwork to document that diagnosis) DRS could be extremely helpful.

If he doesn't like the print shop idea, perhaps be can work in an IT department somewhere. Schools and businesses sometimes have people who just maintain the computers and install new software. That might get him off on the right foot.

Is he going to college right away in the fall? Despite his family it might be better to let him live there and go to student housing in the fall. Having a job might be stressful enough for him...having a job, plus an apartment, plus bills, plus laundry and grocery shopping might be overwhelming.

He's lucky to have you. Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 4:33 PM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the input and the kind words. I'll look into state programs; I hadn't considered that route.

Despite his family it might be better to let him live there...

His family is toxic. If he stays at home, well, I really can't adequately explain how bad this would be.
posted by lekvar at 4:48 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: I agree with christinetheslp - this guy is very lucky to have such a concerned mentor. It sounds like a great idea to capitalize on his knowledge of computers - its a great skill for people with disabilities to have and will help him feel successful working in a job where he is comforable. Maybe working with the tech department at his university would be a good fit in the fall (lots of kids with similar interests).

As for what will help him be successful living independently, it really depends on his skills and areas he struggles with (does he need help with finances/cooking/etc.). I know that for some people with Aspergers, knowing what to expect is crucial - explaining what happens at work, what he needs to do to get there, etc. Also, clear expectations of what is he needs to do is important.

I would also talk to him about his concerns, wants and dreams and discuss ways to make it all work. It sounds like hes got a lot of great skills and not as much family support (aside from a great relationship with you).

Best of luck to you both!
posted by enaira at 4:58 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: How severe is the Aspergers Syndrome? This question really can't be answered without knowing this. AS is a spectrum disorder and can range from inconsequential to debilitating. We would have to know what his social life is like and how well he gets along with others.

Speaking as someone in my 30s who has mild but diagnosed AS, I spent about ten years in the Air Force and I've since come to the conclusion that it can be a very good thing. The military is a very structured environment that gave a lot of chances for my talent to stand out, and it did a lot for my self-esteem. A person on the mild side of the bell curve of AS has enormous advantages early on when the only real challenges are dealing with teamwork aspects. And during the early years of enlistment or commission, none of the management and leadership challenges have yet come into play. Also the Air Force has a lot of good technical fields, and the getting into personal danger in Iraq is not very likely as with other branches of the service. I'm very much a left-leaning pacifist and not very gung-ho about the military but I do think enlistment or ROTC could be definitely worth looking at.

Otherwise, looking back on my post-graduation pre-military years, I do agree that I had enormous tunnel vision regarding jobs; it was a very scary thing and I had no idea where to start, and mismatched skills at most places. There was no one either to handhold me through those life changing experiences. I think no matter how you cut it, he'll need some handholding while tackling those scary life-altering experiences. Drive with him to interviews, have lunch together on those scary days, and just help ease some of the stress. The thing is that if his affliction is mild, he'll do really well once he gets into the swing of things; it's the transition days where he'll need help. If he has a debilitating condition, then that probably changes the picture a bit.
posted by rolypolyman at 4:58 PM on May 3, 2007

And yeah, I agree, get him out of the bad place. Most people with AS can prosper once they've found their niche. It's not autism and there's no reason for him to be in that place. You're doing a great thing.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:01 PM on May 3, 2007

(not classic debilitating autism, that is.... I'm done now)
posted by rolypolyman at 5:02 PM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: I don't really have the background to say where he sits on the spectrum. As stated above, he has the classic difficulties with interactions with others (he almost never makes eye-contact), and he's hyper-focused on his few interests (computers and games) but a lot of his difficulties arise from his home-life.

To be honest, his mom's the one who told me he has Asperger's Syndrome, and she's the problem at home. I didn't believe her for a long time, but he fits so many of the criteria that I've seen in the media and here on MeFi that I've come to accept it. It certainly makes a lot of his quirks easier to understand.

Military is right out - I've spent too much time and effort on him to see him shipped to Iraq. The structure would be perfect, and if I could go back in time and ship him off to a military school I would. ROTC might be an interesting compromise, though I doubt he'd be interested.
posted by lekvar at 5:23 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: ROTC or National Guard isn't the right place for an Asperger's kid; they sure want you to think that, but it just ain't. Sure, the structure's good, but if he's not a 'strong' person (many aspie kids aren't) then he'll never fit in with the 'after hours' crowd in the bunkrooms, and that's where the hijinks that land someone with a dishonorable discharge may ensue. There's some pretty mean people I know in the Army that would completely take advantage of his social issues for their own good.

Do you know any people that work in IT, specifically supporting Macs? Or could you ask your school IT people if they know someone through a computer gathering ... many nerds are very social with their own type, and if you're in the bay area ... ;) A lot of companies take on high school students as summer interns to help reimage or rebuild workstations and clean up with the rest of the time-consuming "crap-shovelling" work that their in-house helpdesk/desktop support guys never have the time to finish. That kind of back-office work where he never meets people but gets to do a lot of repetitive work and learn a lot.

Or, hell, see if you can network your way into a contact with one of Apple or Google's HR people and see if they can do something.
posted by SpecialK at 6:00 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: A customer facing technical role might not be the best place for him. However, there are plenty of "non-customer facing" type roles that he could probably prosper in. If you're looking at IT related, data center operations seems like one where there isn't a massive people skill need. Depot repair also could work well. If nothing else, it'll be something for a resume later down the road.
posted by jeversol at 7:49 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: I don't really know if this is a good fit, but what I thought of when christinethesip mentioned an organized rehabilitation services is Easter Seals. A friend of mine used to work in an Easter Seals program helping disabled adults learn to adjust to jobs.

My friend worked with lots of kinds of people who needed some one-on-one training to get used to a job. I can't tell if Easter Seals works with people in the Autistic Spectrum, but they might be an interesting resource.
posted by rintj at 7:55 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: A couple of things:

Some government programs are quite good, others are not. Please, please, please get to know the rehab program before you enroll the kid in it. Also, even the best of these programs are often at a loss for what to do with Asperger's and high-functioning autistic clients. Most of the people who work at these centers are trained to accompany severely disabled clients to jobs that involve menial tasks like emptying trash cans and shredding documents.

It is one of the tragedies of the syndrome that they often slip through the cracks of many government programs because they are too high functioning for many of the special needs programs and too low functioning to be on their own in the "typical" world.

As mentioned before, the kid is so lucky to have someone like you. Don't forget that. I think that the job at your printing company is perfect for that first job. That way he can have someone to count on at work. For folks with Asperger's, something as different as a full-time job is often traumatic. Having someone he trusts and will take direction from could be a very good thing.

Also, depending on the state in which you live, many governmental agencies and sometimes Social Security picks up the tab for part of the wages associated with hiring folks with disabilities.

I think its hard to answer your question of that he should do because I don't know what he can do. Focus on tasks for extended periods of time? Take direction from superiors? Level of reading comprehension?

I ask these questions because I've been through this before. If you want to talk about it my email is in my profile.
posted by willie11 at 8:18 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: If you know what college he is planning on going to, give their Disabled Student Services a call. He doesn't need to be a student already for them to be willing to talk to you or him -- they are very good about shepherding people through the whole process: admissions, financial aid, and figuring out what kind of accommodation will help him be successful. At my school, people can get free individual tutoring in any subject, extra time on tests (which they can take in the DSS center in a quiet room by themselves), a note-taker, priority registration, an on-campus job geared to their abilities, as well as advocacy with teachers, departments, or the school. Moreover, they will help a person connect with community resources, such as the Department of Rehabilitation. At my school, 90% of the people served by DSS do not have physical disabilities -- so they are likely very familiar with his condition.

How do I know? I wanted to go back to school, and when I was there to pick up the application, I just stopped by the office to see if they do anything for people like me (bipolar). Well, from that day they just took me by the hand and helped me make it all happen. Due to their advocacy, I was able to apply in June for August admission -- and got in, despite my non-stellar academic record. They got the DoR on board, which is paying the entire cost of my education (tuition, fees, books, secretarial supplies, and parking). They also award scholarships -- and this semester, I won one.

Yes, talk to them. They'll hook him up.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:32 PM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: If you haven't already, you might try www.neurodiversity.com or www.auties.org for ideas. I suspect there's Yahoo groups for spectrum adults. The rate of unemployment for spectrum adults is very high, as is the rate of depression. Make sure you work on social connections and networks ('real' or virtual) as part of the big picture. Good for you for doing this.
posted by kch at 10:05 PM on May 3, 2007

My daughter has Asperger's. First I have to say it's awesome you are trying to help this boy.

My daughter was officially diagnosed with Asperger's the summer after she graduated. She went to college, and one of the reason we thought college would be good was to help her learn to live without us. We knew she would be fine academically, especially if she picked a major where she could study one of her "topics" (hers are story telling, esp. from older cultures). But her being able to deal socially is a different story altogether. She needs ALOT of support. (We are driving out to see her today actually, she is just overwhelmed with finals coming up. Just some normal faces and a drive off campus will do the trick).

The DSS in her school doesn't understand Asperger's, and are not very helpful (she is in a big State University). So it really depends on the school you choose if the disablities dept will help. Since she is registered with them, she does get a single room. The single room helps her come to a place where she doesn't have to interact with people.

We have been writing her "scripts" for a very long time. If she gets in a new social situation, she can't navigate the conversation and unspoken rules. So she has had scripts for ordering food by herself, picking up prescriptions, just all sorts of common interactions.

With practice she does ok. Until someone goes off the "script", but even that doesn't throw her like it used to. She also has a life coach who is targeting specific skills she needs to develop and working on them with her.

We live in Massachusetts, and kids can get services from the public schools here until they are 22, such as counseling, speech therapy, etc. My daughter goes to the Dept of Mass. Rehabilitation, they have been able to help her with the job thing. It is nice, because the employer knows in advance she may need extra help. They have also helped her find jobs in what she is studying, for example last year she worked at the National Archives.

Do you know if he has sensory problems? This has been one problem with my daughter and jobs. If he has problems with noises, lights, etc, he may have a problem working at a mill. My daughter says as long as she can keep the sensory stuff at bay, she is able to deal with everything else. But if her sensory system gets overloaded, it takes everything she has to deal with that, and she sometimes doesn't act in a "socially appropriate" manner.

We also are members of the Asperger's Association of New England...maybe there is a group like that near you? I'd be glad to share more of our experience if you like.
posted by gminks at 6:27 AM on May 5, 2007

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