MEANINGFUL GUIDELINE 2: A TASK THAT ONCE MASTERED, A PERSON COULD BE PAID TO PERFORM AS PART OF A REAL JOB

The second guideline for determining meaningful tasks in a center- based situation pertains to teaching remunerative work skills. Many center-based programs have a mission of helping adults with autism learn skills to obtain real jobs. However, as noted earlier with sheltered workshops, this mission has a poor history of being fulfilled in many center-based programs; participating adults frequently have not progressed beyond performing the center-based tasks to actually becoming employed in a community job.

One reason that adults with autism in sheltered workshops and other center-based programs do not leave and successfully enter the typical workforce is the types of instructional tasks that are provided in the former settings. This is where the second meaningful guideline can be most relevant. It specifies that what center participants are being taught to do should involve the same skills that would be needed in an actual job. It also requires that the materials being used be the same as the materials that would be used on the job.

The previous example of an individual repeatedly screwing and unscrewing nuts on bolts provides an illustration of how this guideline can be applied to make center-based vocational tasks meaningful regarding the activity involved. Sometimes this type of activity is considered vocational training in that some jobs require screwing nuts onto bolts. When scrutinizing the actual activity that the individual is doing though, it becomes apparent that he would likely never be paid to do that in a real job. It is difficult to imagine a job that employs someone to screw loose nuts onto bolts scattered on a table, then take the nuts off the bolts, and continuously repeat the process. In contrast, there are jobs in some communities that pay employees to screw various nuts onto different size bolts to, e.g., package for distribution. Hence, if the nuts and bolts activity in the center involved the individual being taught to screw different nuts onto like-sized bolts and package them, the task would be meaningful according to the guideline because this is exactly what the person could be paid to do if employed in a distribution company (and assuming such a job exists in the local community).

Sorting is an example of how the guideline can be used to make center-based tasks vocationally meaningful with regard to the materials used. Sorting various objects is a common task in many center-based programs, such as sorting toy wooden beads by size or color. The intent with instructional tasks that involve sorting objects is that sorting is a skill that is needed to perform certain jobs. Various jobs do involve sorting objects, such as sorting utensils into plastic bags to go with take-out orders at fast food restaurants and sorting different size buttons into bags in sewing kits within a manufacturing plant for subsequent sale. The actual act of sorting therefore can represent a meaningful skill from a vocational perspective because adults can be paid to sort in some jobs. However, it is frequently the case that individuals in centers are taught to sort objects that will never need to be sorted in real work (i.e., the materials associated with the task are not vocationally meaningful).

In short, for a vocationally related task in a center-based program to be meaningful in terms of truly enhancing employment of an adult with autism in a real job outside of the center, the task usually must meet two criteria. First, the behaviors an individual is expected to emit (i.e., skills) must be the same as what the person would have to do as part of a community job. Second, the materials used to perform the task should be the same materials that would be used in the actual job.

 
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