Supporting individuals with FASD in a workplace

On an FASD support group recently a mom posted about her teenager who had just found a part time job. She was seeking some advice since this would not be her first job and she was wanting to set her up for success.

One of the caregivers, Nancy, a grocery store owner, offered some advice from an employer’s perspective. She gave permission for me to share.

Think About the Workplace

As the owner of a grocery store, we get so many people thinking a grocery store would be a good place, but it’s really not. Why?

It’s fast paced, bright lights, can get pretty loud in the back room, customers can be disrespectful, it’s a lot of interaction with people, and requires a lot of memory. That’s how it is for a lot of retail jobs.  

I’m always trying to think of not so obvious places that might be a better fit for individuals with FASD – especially first jobs. Like farms, garden centres, boys and girls club, office clerk, vet or pet grooming assistant, painter, courier, baking assistant, pet sitter/walker.

Prepping for a Job

When you’re out in a store with your teen/adult, ask them, If you had a job here, what do you think you would do? What do you think you would need to work here? How do you think you would handle a customer asking you where something is when you don’t know? Start role playing with them.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Imagine yourself approaching your child/teen/adult as a customer. How do you think they would do? What kind of (realistic) accommodations do you think would help in the workplace? Ask yourself, in this store, or wherever you are, even with accommodations, realistically do you think “this place” would be a good fit?

Workplace Training Programs

Consider quality of in-class training required before going into a work placement. What will they learn? How long is the placement? Does the Agency provide on-site coaches? How long for? What is the experience or training of the on-site coaches in terms of FASD and different disabilities? Can they have their own personal worker as well as on-site work coaches? How would they work together to support your child/teen/adult.

The Interview

If your child/teen/adult has a personal worker, suggest the personal worker comes to the store with them for their interview.

A lot of employers aren’t necessarily going to know what to ask about a workers abilities, so if they don’t have a good site worker who is able to help advocate for them, then it won’t be a good fit.

Out of all the different programs that we’ve worked with, I don’t really remember having anyone mention anything about workplace accommodations. The last few years I have started asking the on-site work coaches what accommodations would help, I usually get the response “I don’t know” in which I reply, perhaps you could ask!

What would be helpful? What is your best starting time or time of day? Do you need to have your duties written down for you (that would include start and finish time, breaks). Ask if they have any triggers? Will the coach help the worker in getting a colleague when a customer asked them a question if needed? Would they help them to speak with a customer in real time, as it’s happening, helping them to understand they are not expected to know any questions as they are new.

The First Day

The worker should attend with your child/teen/adult at least on the first day (if not each shift) for transition. The worker can help them: fill out paperwork, find out where everything is. They also can ask any questions not covered in the interview, or to review what your new employee may not think to, such as; where to find their schedule, who to ask for when they need help, what is their job description, what do they wear, etc.

It is a good idea that they stay for the day to ask other questions that will no doubt come up.

On the Job Coaches

After the initial first day, it is usually the on- site work coaches that take over. Their job is to support the worker – some will stay on the floor with the worker, some will just sit in the lunchroom.

I’m not sure what training the on-site coaches have on different abilities, but some we’ve had were not supportive and just talked “down” about the person they were there to support.

The on-site worker coach plays a big part in helping or not helping the individual with FASD.

Even though due to Covid a lot of programs aren’t running right now, and a lot of businesses can’t afford to hire, this is a great time to be finding out what your teen or adult would like to do and practice the scenarios mentioned at the beginning of this article. 

Final Thoughts from our Experience

For the maiden, she has had a series of co-op placements and jobs. She has tried everything from newspaper delivery, helping look after mini horses, working at a library, nursing home and walking a dog. We also tried working together for donation bin pick ups. The ones that worked well were the ones where she had support. One on one support. Where she felt part of the team. And a consistent schedule.

We do have programs where we live for supporting individuals who have disabilities, however they only provide a job coach for six weeks. That might work for some, it doesn’t work for all. There needs to be more flexibility.

We did have a worker for a while that we paid who went with her to look after the horses. She was rarely available on any other day then one specific morning in a week, so if she couldn’t make it that day, the maiden was not able to work.

With COVID we are taking a break, and hopeful that at some point she may be able to volunteer or work a couple afternoons a week. Ideally, I’d love to find a workplace that would take both of us, because we don’t have the money right now to pay someone to attend with her. Slowly as she was comfortable and felt confident, I could reduce my time until eventually, if able, she was “independent.”

Our experience has proven that hiring for only a few hours a week does not provide consistency or commitment. This last time there was no flexibility either. If you do hire someone, make sure you ask about flexibility for working. Both at the workplace and with worker if either need to cancel.

If you have had success or have ideas to share, please leave a comment.

Additional Information

For more information on FASD and employment check out: Day 65 of 99 Days to FASDay: FASD and Work

One thought on “Supporting individuals with FASD in a workplace

  1. Ab says:

    This is a wonderful post. I’m going to save these insights for one day. I never thought about the grocery store being a sensory overload for the teen. Interesting insight. I also like the suggestion to involve the teens worker in the on boarding. Thanks for sharing!