Part time jobs are a rite of passage for many teenagers. It is not uncommon to see teenage employees at fast food drive through windows, community pools ad big box stores. Most of us do not pay much attention to the faces we see when picking up food or buying our daily essentials.
I have started to direct my attention toward these members of society.
Why, you might ask? My oldest daughter started working part time at a local fast food restaurant. This is something many teens her age do once they reach the age of sixteen or seventeen. My daughter wants to be like her peers. She is like her friends in many ways. She has a driver’s license. She likes listening to her favorite band, doing social media and taking photographs. She is eighteen, and a senior in high school.
She is also on the autism spectrum.
She started working after she turned sixteen. We, her father and I, encouraged her to find a part time job. I wanted her to learn the many skills that a part time job can provide a teen in high school. I told her it would be a great way for her to earn her own money, learn to be more responsible, and boost her confidence. And as an autistic mom, I also wanted her to work as a way to help her with her social skills.
She was social at school, to a certain extent. What she struggled with most was working in a group. In fact, she hated working in groups. Every time a teacher required her to work with others on a project, she had a meltdown. She strongly disagreed with everyone in her various groups on every aspect of the project.
In her mind, nobody would be able to meet her high standards. Please keep in mind that being on the spectrum, she loves order and rule following. Group work can often be lopsided and unfair. Often, one member of the group does substantially more work than the other members. Sometimes group members take advantage of the person in the group who is a hard-working and responsible.
This person was my daughter.
She wanted to get the work done. She wanted to do a good job and turn in the work on time. Unfortunately for her, her peer group members didn’t always have the same goal in mind. Starting with elementary school and continuing through high school, group projects were miserable for her. She could not understand why everyone else didn’t follow the unspoken rules of group work. She expected everyone to do an equal share of the work and complete the work on time.
In a perfect world, all team work and group work would do these exact things. But, as I have tried over the years to explain to her, people don’t always do what we expect them to do. Many on the spectrum have a difficult time working with others because we expect others to think like we think. Mainly, that everyone should follow the rules of order. Everyone should do their fair share.
Working in the community with others through volunteering or part time jobs is essentially group work.
One is expected to get along with coworkers and work together. This has proven to be a challenging task for my daughter. Certain coworkers do more work than others. Sometimes coworkers don’t do what they are supposed to do and others have to pick up the slack.
My daughter is now eighteen, and has been working part time for over two years. She has come a long way. She has learned that group work isn’t always a catastrophic mistake. She has learned to socialize with her coworkers and her community. She has learned how to be responsible with her money (most of the time).
All in all, I think it is vitally important for parents to encourage their children on the autism spectrum to get a part time job. The skills my daughter has learned from her experiences, at work, will take her into the future. She’s gained valuable life skills that can only be learned in a group setting.
If you liked this post, you may also like:
- More of Megan’s Autism Insider essays
- Autistic Entrepreneurs and Self-owned Businesses
- 3 Hopeful Outcomes of the Autism At Work Summit
- How to Find Autism Resources
Image of blanket, chicken and drink courtesy of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen