MU professor writes guide to help autistic adults find jobs

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Jeremy Jacobi, 22, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 16 and is slowly building the skills he needs to live on his own and support himself financially.

"It’s been extremely difficult for me to get a job, to market myself and stand out from other people," he said.

Booklet available online

Scott Standifer's guide, “Adult Autism and Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals" is available online at

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Jacobi is part of a large group of people with an autism spectrum disorder, which can hinder a person's ability to communicate and socially interact. Many people with these disorders have difficulty finding and maintaining employment.

Scott Standifer, an MU clinical associate professor in the School of Health Professions, has created a guide to help change that.

Standifer said because adults with Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autism tend to be more vocal and get more of what he called "scholarly attention," he mainly wanted to address employment issues for people who have little or no communication skills. 

"These individuals face the most significant challenges, and what works for them should also be relevant for people with Asperger's," he said.

Standifer's guide aims to make sure the adult autistic community isn't forgotten.

Jacobi has a strong interest in computer technology and has applied his skills through an internship with MU's athletics department in information technology and at his prior job at Columbia Computer Center.

But Jacobi said some of his behaviors in the workplace were not tolerated.

"A lot of times, I spoke my mind without thinking about if I was hurting other people’s feelings," he said.

Staci Bowlen, the director of the Columbia branch of TouchPoint Autism Services, a program that provides services to people with autism spectrum disorders, said adults with autism typically face challenges such as communicating with customers and knowing what is appropriate to say in interviews and on the job. She said she has noticed there isn’t much information made available to help them find employment.

"Everything surrounds children," Bowlen said. "What people don’t see is that this child grows up.”

Standifer previously worked with a team of professionals to write a guide called "The Handbook of Disabilities." But when recently looking back at that guide, he noticed a lack of information on adults with autism spectrum disorders and their struggles in the workplace. So he updated the handbook and wrote his own guide titled, "Adult Autism and Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals."

Standifer's guide mainly provides information for vocational rehabilitation agencies, which are state-run employment programs to help people with disabilities obtain meaningful careers and live independently.

"Ultimately, the goal is to help the folks with autism get jobs and live out in the community," Standifer said. "These folks want to work, and it's our job to help them achieve that."

Standifer said the guide aims to be specific on the characteristics of autism and how they can influence a person’s effectiveness in the workplace. In turn, providing these characteristics to vocational rehabilitation professionals will allow them to assess the needs of the person with autism and learn how to accommodate such needs.

"I hope they take away a more grounded understanding of what living with autism can be like for the individuals and the kinds of questions to ask as well as the kinds of support to offer to people with autism," Standifer said.

The guide offers suggestions such as interview accommodations, initial questions to ask in an interview, a list of potential career options and possible job accommodations.

James Emmett, a rehabilitation counselor in Monticello, Ind., who works with employment issues specific to people with developmental disabilities and autism, advised Standifer on his new booklet. He said the guide provides a new perspective for these vocational rehabilitation agencies.

"For so long, people with autism have in essence been often set up for failure in vocational rehab centers," Emmett said. "For example, interviews can be really difficult for people with autism. This guide changes that. It can make or break the ability to serve a person with autism."

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Jessie Decker December 10, 2009 | 8:46 a.m.

At The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP), we are beginning to address important, and often overlooked, services for adults with autism. It's good to see that other states are on the same path.

(Report Comment)
Barbara Shallue December 14, 2009 | 11:24 a.m.

This is very exciting. I help moderate, a website/forum where adults with autism, their job coaches, employers or caregivers can share their experiences or "job stories" - in that way they can learn from each other and move forward. We also blog about information like this to help spread the word about available resources. I'll pass the word on about these resources (and link back to this article, of course!) Thank you!

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