What are the essential skills for success? Will good grades be necessary… or enough? After 12th Grade the world is a much less predictable place with never-ending possibilities and/or pitfalls. This can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate for individuals with ASD as they grow into young adults. What will really prepare them for what lies ahead? These are questions that ALL parents (and educators) face, but seem especially prominent for loved ones of individuals with ASD and other disabilities.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), barriers to employment or success in the workplace and higher education come from poor performance of skills coined “soft skills”. Those identified by ODEP include: Communication, Enthusiasm & Attitude, Teamwork (Collaboration), Networking, Problem Solving & Critical Thinking, and Professionalism. [Check out the ODEP website for a free curriculum: https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/ focusing on these areas.]
In addition, private business organizations like the Business News Daily, LinkedIn, U.S. News, and The Graduate School at the University of Cincinnati all report “Top 5” or “Top 10 Soft Skills” needed for college or job success. Good communication skills are usually first in EVERY list, along with some form of good teaming, problem-solving, and organization/planning skills. In fact, the National Soft Skills Association reported it has been 100 years since the concept of 85% soft skills to 15 % hard skills was identified for job success. Vicki Nelson, founder of www.collegeparentcentral.com, confirms “College readiness consists of many things, but goes well beyond high school courses taken and grades received”. She further encourages parents to take the lead in helping their students learn these critical soft skills through personal experiences. She emphasized the need to “…start early with your child in helping develop these skills within the family context.”
Unlike hard skills, which describe a person’s technical skill set and ability to perform specific tasks, soft skills are broadly applicable across jobs and industries. Knowing how to get along with people – and displaying a positive attitude – are crucial for success. The problem is, the importance of these soft skills is often undervalued or underrepresented in general education curriculums and statewide Standards so there is far less direct training provided for them than hard skills. Typically developing students are expected to develop soft skills by their experiences rather than direct teaching, so it can be a difficult shift for special educators outside of their regular education curriculums.
We at Project ACCESS address these “soft skills” in cognitive-language terms, including three primary cognitive functions; Executive Functioning, Theory of Mind, and Central Cohesion along with skills facilitating Self-Management. An individual’s success in these four broad cognitive-language areas are the underlying mechanisms that impact an individual’s communication, motivation, interaction with others, and problem solving ability. Further, we believe (and teach public educators in Missouri) that preparing for LAHS starts when a child starts school so that these skills can be incorporated from day 1. Through family experiences and good educational programming across children’s school careers these prerequisite soft skills can develop.
Executive Functioning: The term Executive Functioning (EF) comes from neuroscience literature, and refers to the brain-based skills required for humans to execute, or perform, tasks. EF deficit is not a medical diagnosis or an education disability category and are not connected in any way to intelligence. Here is a list of specific soft skills that make up EF in their order of developmental emergence:
- Response inhibition; controlling impulses; and self-monitoring
- Working memory
- Emotional control, including social control
- Sustained attention and focusing
- Task initiation
- Planning / prioritization
- Sequencing / organization
- Time management
- Goal-directed persistence
- Metacognition (thinking about thinking, recognizing what you already know and don’t know)
Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child narrows these describing EF with Self-regulation through three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. They suggest that “adults can facilitate the development of a child’s EF skills by establishing routines, modeling social behavior, and creating and maintaining supportive, reliable relationships.”
An intact Theory of Mind (ToM) allows an individual to guess what others are thinking (empathy), then tailor their own responses accordingly. Intact Central Coherence allows an individual to see the whole picture and guess the details, or to see the details of a situation and guess the whole picture. Absence of ToM and Central Cohesion renders a person with “mind blindness” or “context blindness” in social situations. Finally, are the necessary Self-Management skills which Include emotional self-regulation, self-awareness, and self-advocacy skills. These are the necessary skills that will really make the difference in an individual’s success following High School!
While Transition assessments used by schools to determine student readiness for LAHS focus on more traditionally academic skills or achievement, we believe addressing these underlying cognitive-language abilities throughout a child’s school career will be more accurately predictive of future success For example, transition assessments test different curricular areas, such as functional writing and reading, math, money and finance, and speaking and listening, as well as fine and gross motor skills and adaptive functioning on daily living and self-help tasks. But if we look at the specific daily living, self-help skill of personal hygiene, from a cognitive-language perspective, we would focus on goals for Self-Awareness to teach individuals to be aware of their own state of cleanliness in relation to understanding how their sense of personal hygiene will be perceived by others from goals to improve Theory of Mind or perspective-taking. For more information, you can check out our Fact Sheets on these and other skills on our website missouristate.edu/access
Also, a quick look at necessary “hard skills” identified by professionals in the Transition Coalition (http://transitioncoalition.org/): physical stamina, work pace, works neatly and accurately, sticks to a task, works to improve performance, completes work on time, and follows directions. These may sound like more familiar skills addressed in your student’s school program, but certainly should not be overlooked.
*For more information, find our Fact Sheets at the Project ACCESS website www.missouristate.edu/access/
*Project ACCESS Fact Sheet 39 Executive Functioning Skills: What Are You Talking About?
*Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child Article and overview video available at: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/
*http://www.nationalsoftskills.org/top-10-soft-skills-for-success/. Example, The Graduate School at the University of Cincinnati top ten list: Dependability, Motivation/Initiative, Communication, Commitment, Creativity, Problem Solving, Flexibility, Teamwork, Leadership, & Time Management https://grad.uc.edu/student-life/news/soft-skills.html.
*Business News Daily reported results of a LinkedIn analysis determining another list of the top ten soft skills most in demand by employers: good communicator, well organized, team player, punctual, critical thinker, social, creative, interpersonal skills, easily adapts, friendly personality.
*U.S.News reports on the top 5 soft skills every college student needs http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/college-admissions-playbook/2014/05/12/hone-the-top-5-soft-skills-every-college-student-needs collaboration, communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving, time management, and leadership.
*https://www.collegeparentcentral.com/2011/12/soft-skills-strong-readiness-fifteen-skills-your-student-needs-to-be-college-ready/ founded and written by Vicki Nelson, college parent survivor, college professor, academic advisor and administrator.
*Brigance Transition Skills Inventory (TSI), Enderle-Severson Transition Rating Scale (ESTR), Transition Planning Inventory–Second Edition (TPI-2), The Secondary School Success Checklist (SSSC) 2013.
Top 10 Employability Skills
- Communication skills — Listening, speaking and writing. Employers want people who can accurately interpret what others are saying and organize and express their thoughts clearly.
- Teamwork — In today’s work environment, many jobs involve working in one or more groups. Employers want someone who can bring out the best in others.
- Analytical and problem-solving skills — Employers want people who can use creativity, reasoning and past experiences to identify and solve problems effectively.
- Personal management skills — The ability to plan and manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities and adapt to changing conditions and work assignments.
- Interpersonal effectiveness — Employers usually note whether an employee can relate to co-workers and build relationships with others in the organization.
- Computer/technical literacy — Although employers expect to provide training on job-specific software, they also expect employees to be proficient with basic computer skills.
- Leadership/management skills — The ability to take charge and manage your co-workers, if required, is a welcome trait. Most employers look for signs of leadership qualities.
- Learning skills — Jobs are constantly changing and evolving, and employers want people who can grow and learn as changes come.
- Academic competence in reading and math — Although most jobs don’t require calculus, almost all jobs require the ability to read and comprehend instructions and perform basic math.
- Strong work values — Dependability, honesty, self confidence and a positive attitude are prized qualities in any profession. Employers look for personal integrity.
©Project ACCESS – Shannon Locke, M.S., CCC-SLP; 2017
Bloggers note: An edited version of this article is printed in the May/June issue of Missouri Autism Report at the following link: MAR