Job Training / Employment

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80% of adults with FASD have problems with employment., regardless of IQ.  Persons with an FASD are unemployed due to their lack of social skills and difficulty with workplace skills, such as time management and personal hygiene. Secondary disabilities prevent some persons from being able to work, even in sheltered environments. Other adults with FASD have addictions to drugs or alcohol and do not seek employment.

However, work can help provide not only income and a valuable source of self esteem for individuals with FASD, for those persons struggling with a history of substance abuse, work can also provide the structure needed to maintain sobriety.  If work is to become an achievable goal for individuals with an FASD, vocational rehabilitation and other supportive services, such as substance abuse treatment, must be closely integrated. As part of the treatment plan, referrals to job placement resources and job coaches may be needed.

Helping FASD-Affected Teens and Adults to Be Successful in the Workplace

Appropriate training and assistance can help many people with an FASD find and hold jobs. Some people may be capable of keeping a job, if the job is appropriate and they and their employer are provided with support all along the way. The support required is long-term and ongoing.

Job training for persons with an FASD should begin during high school, with the student’s education team taking the lead in planning the transition from school to work.

State vocational rehabilitation services are vital for youth with an FASD due to the complexity and impact of their disability upon their capacity for independent living. Services may include:

  • Supported work experiences (i.e., sheltered employment)
  • Job coaches
  • Vocational skill training
  • Academic support and tutoring
  • College support services, i.e., tutors, note takers
  • Assistive Technology

The Rehabilitation Services Administration may be able to help with job placement and support services such as job coaches. States and private organizations, such as the Arc, may also offer assistance.

The key to successful employment for individuals with an FASD is an employer who understands FASD, has reasonable expectations, and can provide a supportive environment. Helpful strategies include:

  • Using concrete language
  • Establishing consistency and routine
  • Providing ongoing training
  • Reviewing job expectations frequently
  • Helping to interpret the wishes and actions of other employees and customers

Problems Persons with FASD May Have With Employment

Rob Wybrecht, who is affected by FASD, has listed the following as common problems that occur to persons, like him, with FASD who are in the workforce.

  • The job coach is discontinued, usually after six months at the most, and the case is closed
  • The supportive boss leaves the place of employment
  • The person with FASD gets a promotion, or a job change, without adequate support
  • The bus route is changed, the worker cannot afford transportation (car, insurance renewal)
  • The person has no case manager, because his IQ is too high for services
  • The job has no set routine 
  • There is a lack of communication or supervision, or more than one supervisor
  • The worker has trouble with time management, perhaps has trouble completing a task before starting another
  • The worker has trouble keeping the workspace organized 
  • The worker has trouble remembering when time sheet is due, or with filling it out

Other workplace problems consistent with executive functioning and social issues commonly seen in persons with FASD include:

Problems Handling Cash

  • The worker may not be able to give proper change
  • The worker may be tempted to take cash

Problems Being on Time

  • The worker may often be late, take unscheduled breaks or leave at the wrong time
  • The worker may miss shifts or come late

Problems Getting Along with Co-Workers

  • The worker may have outbursts and tantrums when work tasks and routines are changed without warning
  • The worker may overstep boundaries with other employees or management

Problems Getting Along with the Public

  • The worker may not be able to interact with customers appropriately; i.e., may act silly, mimic or respond negatively; may ask a customer for a cigarette

How Parents and Caregivers Can Help

  • Encourage your child to volunteer. Volunteering can teach important life skills and lead to possible job opportunities.
  • Connect your child with employment agencies for people with disabilities. A local disability network or agency for community living may have a list of “friendly” employers. 
  • It may help to educate employers about your child’s condition before the interview. Consider attending the interview with your child.
  • Once your child has a job, he will need help keeping it. Review his schedule and help him remember it.  Help him with a transportation plan, and rehearse what to do if the bus is late or the ride doesn't come. Role-play his duties. Check in frequently.
  • Arrange to manage your child's earnings on her behalf, or help her with banking, direct deposit, etc.

Useful Links

Feeling Lost This is a blog entry by an adult with FASD who describes her challenges with work.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Associated Disabilities: A Training Manual to Aid in Vocational Rehabilitation and Other Non-medical Services
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Valerie Lipow,
Jul 31, 2012, 3:56 PM
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