Choosing what you want to be when you grow up is confusing as you transition into adulthood, but it could be really challenging for autistic individuals.

Conceptualizing how different life skills are adjusted to new environments and applications often may not come naturally for autistic individuals. It’s could also be difficult for them to translate skills, interests, and aspirations into conceivable goals and professions.

That’s where vocational goals come in. As a special education professional, understanding the nuances of vocational goal setting and the communication around it is crucial for your success in that area.

Oftentimes, the family or caregivers of autistic teens and young adults may not be able to help or even visualize their family members entering the workforce. This can hinder their ability to support them through this transition without a game plan.

What Are Vocational Goals?

Vocational goals are goals created to help people achieve employability in careers that are consistent with their abilities, interests, limitations, and aspirations.

Vocational goals could include skills needed to find a job, maintain a job, or perform specific tasks required for the job. This could include anything from interviewing skills to following a bus schedule or practicing routine tasks. Like any other IEP goal, vocational goals must be age appropriate and measurable.

While this is a general term that can benefit everyone, it’s integral for the success of people with mental health conditions, such as autism and ADHD.

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Why Are Vocational Goals Important for People on the Spectrum?

The reality of autism poses some unique challenges in setting vocational goals.

Most young adults often have inaccurate expectations of what work entails. However, young adults on the spectrum may sometimes be very competent in tasks related to the job itself and instead struggle with social interactions or expectations within the work environment.

Some simple examples of that are maintaining the appropriate tone of voice or volume, receiving instructions, and managing negative stimuli.

Vocational Goals Examples for Allistic vs. Autistic People

First I just want to clarify Allistic simply means a non autistic person.

There’s nothing inherently allistic or autistic about any given life skill. However, how tasks and goals are phrased and evaluated is often where most autistic individuals struggle.

While unclear instructions are generally problematic for most workers, their effect is almost negligible on an allistic individual compared to how that may affect someone on the spectrum.

They may also not address granular life skills that don’t come naturally to autistic individuals. So how you choose to create these goals can make or break your students’ chances.

Here are some examples where you can see how a vocational goal can be made differently:

Allistic-Appropriate GoalAutistic Appropriate Goal
Manage stress from long commutesTransfer from one bus to another safely and calmly
Be an effective member of the teamDiscriminate between personal and general information.
Have constructive and healthy relationships with your coworkersIdentify the core differences between familial and work relationships.

Step-by-Step Guide for Setting Vocational Goals for Autistic Students

Setting vocational goals relies almost entirely on the age as well as the level of the individual you’re working with.

These steps will give you an overview of how to approach vocational goals for autism, but they’re far from comprehensive.

1. Identify Strengths, Weaknesses, and Limitations

The first and perhaps the most tricky step is to assess where your student is right now vs. where they need to be by the time they graduate.

This is tricky because there’s a lot more to an autistic individual’s strengths and weaknesses than what meets the eye.

For example, a child who is gifted with art may not necessarily thrive in a creative job because the motivation to create art has become external rather than a means of self-expression. 

So when you examine a student’s strengths, you have to put into consideration the limitations of these strengths to achieve longevity. 

The same goes for weaknesses. Just because they’re currently not comfortable dealing with strangers, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be excellent when dealing with customers after receiving adequate support and a clear-cut process for dealing with them.

You can learn more about vocational assessments here at A Day in Our Shoes.

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2. Discuss Values, Interests, and Future Goals

This step depends on whether your student is at the appropriate age and level to discuss abstract concepts such as values, compatibility, and aspirations. If not, then you’ll need to work your way there first.

Either way, you’ll need to consult with their family to choose the direction and priorities of your plan. Is post-graduation financial support a problem? Do they have a family business that can help them transition gradually to a completely new environment?

3. Create SMART Goals

It’s hard to go wrong with SMART goals because they break down an objective into its most comprehensible format. If you can’t seem to fulfill these criteria, then this objective may be counterproductive for your student.

  • Specific: As mentioned above, make sure that the goal and all the exercises surrounding it have as little room as possible for the need for personal interpretation and keep it narrow to avoid overwhelming them.
  • Measurable: Make your goal as quantifiable as possible. Create a small checklist of all the requirements for a given task to be considered a success. 
  • Attainable: Make sure each goal is a gradual progression from where your student’s life skills are at now. 
  • Relevant: Hone in on the most crucial skills before refining the details. For example, the ability to receive criticism is of secondary importance when your student isn’t yet able to receive instructions.
  • Time-bound: Finally, set the frequency with which you’ll be practicing and assessing this life skill so that you’ll build on your progress without pressuring your student beyond their capacity.

Vocational Goal Topics

  1. Career exploration: Assist the student in exploring various career options and identifying areas of interest and strength. This may include informational interviews, job shadowing, and career assessments.
  2. Vocational training: Provide the student with vocational training to develop specific skills required in a particular occupation or industry, such as welding, nursing, or graphic design.
  3. Internships and work-based learning: Facilitate opportunities for the student to participate in internships, work-based learning experiences, or apprenticeships to develop practical skills and gain work experience.
  4. Job readiness skills: Help the student develop job readiness skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, time management, and organizational skills.
  5. Job placement: Assist the student in finding and securing employment in a specific industry or occupation.
  6. Accommodations and supports: Identify and provide accommodations and supports to the student that will enable them to be successful in the workplace, such as assistive technology, job coaching, or specialized training.
  7. Career advancement: Support the student in developing a career plan that includes goals for career advancement, such as earning promotions, additional certifications or degrees, or transitioning to a different career.
  8. Self-advocacy: Help the student develop self-advocacy skills that will enable them to communicate effectively with employers and colleagues, request accommodations or modifications as needed, and navigate workplace challenges.

These are just a few examples of vocational goal topics that could be included in an IEP. The specific goals and objectives will depend on the student's individual needs, strengths, interests, and career aspirations.

job tasks: vocational goals

Vocational Goals Examples with Job Tasks

It is important to note that job tasks for special education students should be individualized to the student's strengths, interests, and abilities, and should be based on the goals outlined in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). However, here are some examples of job tasks that may be appropriate for special education students:

  1. Sorting and organizing materials: This may include sorting files, paperwork, or other materials in an office setting, or organizing inventory in a retail or warehouse setting.
  2. Cleaning and maintenance: This may include cleaning tables and surfaces, sweeping or mopping floors, or performing basic maintenance tasks such as changing light bulbs or restocking supplies.
  3. Assisting customers or clients: This may include greeting customers, answering basic questions, or providing basic customer service in a retail or service setting.
  4. Food preparation and service: This may include preparing simple meals or snacks, serving food to customers or clients, or cleaning up after meals.
  5. Data entry or basic computer tasks: This may include entering data into a computer system, typing up documents or reports, or performing other basic computer tasks.
  6. Packaging and assembly: This may include packaging products or components, assembling products or parts, or performing quality control checks on products.
  7. Landscaping or groundskeeping: This may include planting and maintaining gardens, mowing lawns, or performing other basic landscaping tasks.
  8. Basic office tasks: This may include answering phones, filing paperwork, or performing other basic tasks in an office setting.
  9. Personal information: This could include the ability to share personal information appropriately such as writing down name, address, phone number, emergency contact, etc.

Again, it is important to individualize job tasks for each special education student based on their needs and goals. These are just some examples of tasks that may be appropriate for some students.

Now I want to break these goals ideas down even farther so you can see the specific skill areas you can work towards.

Sorting and Organizing Materials

  1. Sort sizes of things
  2. Sort colors of things
  3. Fold laundry
  4. Hang Clothing
  5. Match items
  6. Sort files/paperwork
  7. Read labels and put things back where they belong
  8. knows how to put away dishes
  9. organize food items in a pantry/cupboard
sorting and organizing: vocational goals

Cleaning and Maintenance

  1. Wipe down the counter/table
  2. throwing away/sorting trash/recyclables
  3. Using a hammer or screwdriver for simple fixes
  4. Wash dishes
  5. wash and dry clothing
  6. Put away cleaning supples
  7. vaccumm
  8. mop or sweep the floor
  9. Clean up a spill on the floor
  10. Organizing and re-stocking the supply closet or pantry
cleaning tasks: vocational goals

Assisting Customers or Clients

  1. Answers the phone and can hold a conversation on the phone
  2. Can assist someone with using keyboard/typing to answer questions
  3. can redirect someone on the phone
  4. Can greet someone in person or on the phone
  5. Can answer specific questions about a specific topic (job task)
  6. Can answer specific questions about an item of interest or non interest

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Food Preparation and Service

  1. Fold napkins
  2. Put away silverware
  3. Put dishes away
  4. Cut up fruits and vegetables
  5. Cut up meat
  6. prepare a simple meal
  7. prepare a simple snack
  8. Understands food safety
  9. can use a microwave
  10. can use a toaster
  11. can use an oven
  12. Can get a glass of water
  13. can make a grocery list
  14. can make a grocery budget
  15. can put the foods away in refrigerator, freezer, or pantry

Data Entry or Basic Computer Tasks

  1. Navigate computer browser
  2. Understand how to use the internet
  3. enter data into the computer program
  4. use a computer mouse
  5. type on a keyboard
  6. write a word document
  7. use a google sheets or excel document
  8. Can type on personal information on a questionnaire

Packaging and Assembly

  1. assemble a package of things
  2. can follow directions of what to put together
  3. can look at a picture and put those items together
  4. can read instructions and follow the directions

Landscaping or Groundskeeping

  1. can mow the grass
  2. dig up flowers
  3. water flowers
  4. water grass
  5. plant flowers
  6. plant a garden
  7. pull weeds

Basic Office Tasks

  1. Use a computer mouse
  2. Type on the keyboard
  3. Write out a list of items
  4. Make a copy using the copier
  5. staple items together
  6. sort/organize papers
  7. sign papers
  8. write a check
  9. fill out a receipt

Personal Information

  1. Writes and types name
  2. writes and types address
  3. writes and types phone number
  4. knows who to contact in an emergency
  5. knows their own allergies and medications they are taking for safety
  6. can state their emergency contact name and phone number

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Soft Skills that can be Important for a Variety of Job Tasks

  1. Communication: The ability to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, with colleagues, customers, and supervisors is critical.
  2. Teamwork: Collaboration and the ability to work effectively with others is important in almost every workplace.
  3. Problem-solving: The ability to identify, analyze, and solve problems is essential in many job roles.
  4. Adaptability: Being able to adjust to changing circumstances and learn new skills and procedures is important in today's fast-paced work environments.
  5. Leadership: The ability to motivate, guide, and inspire others is valued in many organizations.
  6. Time management: Being able to prioritize tasks, meet deadlines, and manage time effectively is important in many job roles.
  7. Attention to detail: Being detail-oriented and able to spot errors or inconsistencies is important in jobs where accuracy is critical.
  8. Emotional intelligence: Understanding and managing one's own emotions, as well as recognizing and responding appropriately to the emotions of others, is important in any workplace.
  9. Positive attitude: Maintaining a positive outlook and being enthusiastic and motivated can help one succeed in any job.
  10. Conflict resolution: The ability to resolve conflicts or disagreements in a professional and constructive manner is important for maintaining positive relationships with colleagues and clients.

These are just a few examples of soft skills that are important for success in many different job roles. The specific skills required may vary depending on the industry, the job, and the organization.

vocational goals: filling out resume

Additional Specific Vocational Goals Examples

  1. Identify personal strengths
  2. Be able to answer a verbal question interview
  3. Be able to be on time
  4. Identify time on a daily schedule
  5. Identifies job schedule
  6. can ask for letters of reference
  7. can write a resume
  8. can identify reasonable places to work
  9. can identify preferences/interests
  10. can fill out a job application

These are just a few additional specific vocational goal examples for you to add to your toolbox.

Final Thoughts

As you gain more experience with setting vocational goals, you’ll get better at catering to the specific needs of each individual.

You should also set your expectations as well as those of your students and their families. Make sure to always include the student's input and needs first. Work with the student and the family together to come up with a plan to help them transition into adulthood.

Additional Life Skills Resources you Will Enjoy

The Mega Bundle of Functional Life Skills Resources for Teens and Adults

Independent Functioning IEP Goals: Examples and Templates to Save You Time

Life Skill Goals for Teaching Independence

The Best Functional Life Skills Resources for Autistic Individuals

vocational goals