Transitioning College Students with Asperger’s Syndrome to the World of Work: Implications for Career Counselors

By Abiola Dipeolu and Cassandra A. Storlie

Career development services emerged based on the need to serve underrepresented groups in society (Dipeolu, 2009). In 1909, Frank Parsons advocated for underserved citizens by initiating the first career development program in the city of Boston. More recently, providing career development services to underrepresented groups, such as college students with Asperger’s Syndrome, is a welcome addition to this time honored tradition. Transitions can be particularly challenging for college students with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and the transition from adolescence to adulthood may be extremely stressful and difficult (Temple & Duffy, 2008). Without specialized interventions, these students may experience increased frustration, depression and anxiety, which can create further isolation (Atwood, 1998). Gradual and incremental transition services for post college employment are an important linchpin for the success of AS students on college campuses (Fast, 2010) For those who successfully graduate from institutions of higher education, obtaining gainful employment becomes another hurdle to tackle (Temple & Duffy, 2008). The purpose of this article is to introduce considerations for AS college students transitioning to the world of work and to provide tools for career counselors to use with this unique population.


Considerations for College Students with Asperger’s Syndrome
Career counselors may open the door to new possibilities by removing potential barriers and building on the personal strengths of college students with disabilities (Dipeolu, Storlie, & Johnson, in press). Historically, colleges have concentrated on individuals with physical, cognitive and sensory needs (Fast, 2010), and career counseling professionals may have limited experience working with students with AS or autism spectrum disorders. With one in sixty-three children showing symptoms of AS (CDC, 2007), it can be a difficult and challenging disorder for students and families. Career counselors should possess a positive outlook and attitude, as research supports this as an influential factor in the overall success of students with AS (Fast, 2010).


To enhance the career success of Asperger students, career counselors must assist students by teaching effective transitioning skills. These include:

  • understanding their disability,
  • becoming a self-advocate,
  • developing realistic goals,
  • enhancing social and job hunting skills, and
  • maintaining good mental health.


Additional skills may include how to effectively use free time, locating help and assistance when necessary, adhering to organization and time management, and negotiating for their best interest. Career counseling is essential in the quest for successful transition experiences for students with AS. Specialized career interventions are effective in providing the necessary skills to become a fully engaged, employed member of society (Fast, 2010).


Career Counseling Strategies for College Students with Asperger’s Syndrome


  1. Inform students about relevant legislation in higher education and in workplace settings.

The ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and FERPA are all relevant laws that govern services provided in higher education (Wolf et al., 2009). However, laws governing the workplace include accommodations that employers must make to assist individuals with disabilities. Periodic breaks and decreased exposure to over-stimulating environments are reasonable accommodations for individuals with AS to request.


  1. Assess student strengths and minimize social and executive functional deficits.

Assist students with AS to identify their personal strengths and to investigate careers that will

accentuate their talents. Discuss the importance of job-fit and practice compensatory techniques for functional limitations while in session. Recognizing strengths and weaknesses are essential insights for all employees. If warranted, link the student to Vocational Rehabilitation programs that can further assist the student.


Learning to work as a team, having business etiquette, and getting along with co-workers are essential social skills for a healthy work environment. Most importantly, counselors can work with AS students to master how to read coworkers’ emotions and social cues (Temple & Duffy, 2008). These social skills are imperative during the job search, interview stage, and overall career trajectory (Chapel & Somers, 2010; Dipeolu, et al. in press).


  1. Encourage a satisfying career with healthy and adaptable work environments.

Card sorts are techniques students with AS can use to fully engage in discussion about their talents and strengths for a future satisfying career. Friendly and flexible work environments may be the best setting for students with AS to excel. Once a suitable occupation is chosen, it is important to discuss how the disability may impact effective job performance (Fast, 2010).


  1. Practice and rehearse job interviewing skills.

Job hunting and time management skills are essential, but good interviewing skills may be the key that unlocks the door to career possibilities. Role play and rehearsal with audio/video recordings of mock job interviews can be discussed in session to help develop successful interview skills (Dipeolu, et al. in press). This allows for students with AS to self-evaluate and identify areas they can strengthen to support their occupational goals.


  1. Assist students in creating a stress management plan.

Managing stress and adjusting to a new work environment is crucial (Fast, 2010). Career professionals may want to devote time to address work and social situations that may precipitate stress and then practice healthy ways of coping. Linking students with AS to effective and trained mentors may further develop network connections to help individuals manage difficult situations.


Although many interventions can be listed to help college students transition to the world of work, these authors found the aforementioned strategies to be essential interventions while working with this population. Teaching appropriate transitional skills can mean the difference of these students living independently as adults, or under the supervision of adults (Dipeolu, et al. in press; Wolf et al., 2009). The obstacles faced by these students are daunting, but by focusing on specialized strategies, career professionals can guide these students through successful transition to the adult world of work. Let’s do it again for the next 100 years!


Happy Anniversary, NCDA! Celebrate NCDA's centennial in Boston at the Global Career Development Conference, July 8-10, 2013. The keynote speaker for the opening session is Dr. Temple Grandin, an autistic child and later named Time Magazine's 2010 “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.”  Her 2011 book "The Way I See it: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's" is the revised and expanded 2nd edition.



Atwood, T. (1998). Asperger’s Syndrome. London: Jessica Kinglsey.


Centers for Disease Control. (2011). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html.


Chappel, S.L., & Somers, B.C. (2010). Employing persons with autism spectrum disorders: Acollaborative effort. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 32: 117-124. DOI:10.3233/JVR 2010-0501.


Dipeolu, A. (2009). Teaching career development professionals to work with individuals withdisabilities. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal,25, 97-106.


Dipeolu, A., Storlie, C., & Johnson, C. (in press) College students with asperger syndrome: Best practices for successful transition to the world of work Journal of College Counseling.


Fast, Y. (2010). Employment for individuals with Asperger syndrome or non-verbal learningdisability. Jessica Kingsley Publisher, London.


Temple, G. & Duffy, K. (2008). Developing talents: Careers for individuals with Aspergersyndrome and high functioning autism. Autism Asperger Publishing Company. Shawn Mission, Kansas.


Wolf, L. E., Thierfeld, J. & Bork, G. R. (2009). Students with Asperger Syndrome: A guide forcollege personnel. Autism Asperger Publishing Company. Shawn Mission, Kansas.




Abiola DipeoluAbiola Dipeolu, Ph.D., LP, is an Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, School, & Education Psychology, University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. Her research interests include career development of people with disabilities, career interventions for individuals with ADHD and LD, and post-school transition issues. She can be reached at adipeolu@buffalo.edu.



Cassandra StorlieCassandra A. Storlie is a doctoral candidate in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program at the University of Iowa and has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor at Kent State University beginning Fall 2013. Her research interests include social justice and collaboration efforts among counseling professionals to assist in healthy career development of marginalized populations. She can be reached at cassandra-storlie@uiowa.edu.


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vicki sherlock   on Monday 04/01/2013 at 07:37 PM

Very interesting article and I am pleased to see AS addressed in terms of career development. I am learning more about AS and how it impacts one's ability to read emotional cues and what this means in terms of obtaining and sustaining employment. I personally have had experience with AS and it would beneficial for everyone to learn more about it because those diagnosed with AS can be hard working and dynamic employees.

Abiola Dipeolu   on Monday 04/01/2013 at 08:03 PM

Vicki: Thank you for your comments. I think we have a wonderful opportunity as career development professionals to help open doors of employment opportunities by providing needed skills for these individuals with tremendous potentials.

For more detailed information on how AS impacts one's ability to read emotional cues and what this means in terms of obtaining and sustaining employment, plus specific interventions to deal with these, I would recommend reading our more detailed manuscript on this topic :Dipeolu, A., Storlie, C., & Johnson, C. (in press) College students with asperger syndrome: Best practices for successful transition to the world of work Journal of College Counseling. I apologize if this feels like self-promotion. But in all honesty, I believe we as career development specialists can benefit from having these tools handy, so we can be effective with all clients. After all, this is what we had done for the last 100 years, serving marginalized groups. By the way, Happy 100-years Anniversary to NCDA!

vicki sherlock   on Monday 04/01/2013 at 08:28 PM

Thank you for sharing these resources.

Abiola Dipeolu   on Monday 04/01/2013 at 08:32 PM

You are most welcome!

Marianne Hupalo   on Monday 04/01/2013 at 11:37 PM

These are great strategies to begin in High School years. Getting a first p/t job boosts self esteem and gives employers arole in integrating AS young people into the adult world of work. I have found students benefit very much from role plays and card sorts/scaling activities as well as visual metaphors. Great resources are available from St Luke's Innovative resources, providing insights - in both directions!www.innovativeresources.org

Abiola Dipeolu   on Tuesday 04/02/2013 at 09:32 AM

Marianne: This is a great resource. I wonder what else is out there for those who will be working with this population.

Thanks for sharing.

Ligia Carla Suarez   on Tuesday 04/02/2013 at 10:53 AM

I already read your sensitive article and I learned a lot respect this issue that affect to much both high school and college students. As guidance counselor and career development facilitator I'd like to work with this special populations because I feel it is something familiar for me. Please, let me know where can I find more information about this issues and thanks for share with us this important and delicate material. It is really helpful.

Manon Nadeau   on Wednesday 04/03/2013 at 10:00 AM

Can anyone advise on specific types of career exploration surveys - self directed search engines that work best with this population - I'm finding it difficult as a career practitioner to guide towards a career as I find often with AS clients, we get practically empty forms showing basically no preference for any particular career areas. This is with very bright individuals who are struggling to fit in somewhere. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated

A. Dipeolu   on Wednesday 04/03/2013 at 11:21 AM

Very quickly, it is generally agreed that standard career test inventories are not very effective when it comes to student with AS. I would recommend individualizing your approach, that is, one-on-one mtg, working very closely with the student. Additionally, using tools such as card sorts and/or a strength and weakness inventory should get you a great start.
Let me know if you need more.

Narelle Milligan F.CDAA   on Wednesday 04/03/2013 at 07:37 PM

A most stimulating article, thank you! Last year I case managed a displaced government worker who has Aspergers because no other staff member volunteered (including members of CDAA -Career Development Assoc. of Australia!) It's not my first encounter with an employee who doesn't fit the mould of a government department. You suggested card sorts. Do you mean the ones developed by Dr Dick Knowdell? Thank you. Narelle

A. Dipeolu   on Wednesday 04/03/2013 at 07:54 PM

There are different card sorts developed by different people that are out there. The Knowles' is just one of the ones that are out there in the market. FYI-There is an excellent chapter on Using Card Sorts in the book "Using Career Assessment Results for Career Development" by Osborn and Zunker. Hope this is helpful.

Career counselors as experts with training in the area of work/career related interventions have got to step in there to help diverse clients.

Thank you for what you are doing to help make another person a productive member of society.

A. Dipeolu   on Wednesday 04/03/2013 at 07:56 PM

My apology, Narelle, I meant to write
"Knowdell" in place of Knowles.

A. Dipeolu   on Thursday 04/04/2013 at 02:41 PM

Ligia, apologize for the late response.

I would encourage you to start with the references we listed at the end of the article, especially the Dipeolu, A., Storlie, C., & Johnson, C. (in press) College students with asperger syndrome: Best practices for successful transition to the world of work Journal of College Counseling. I believe we provided exhaustive list of very useful/effective interventions.

Thank you for your interest and good luck!

Janine Rowe    on Friday 04/05/2013 at 11:39 AM

Thank you for sharing this article.

I have also had great success using Knowdell's Card Sort for assessment of values and strengths.

Using an MBTI has been helpful for my students because they develop some language around how to describe themselves, their preferences, and their tendencies. This can generate a brainstorm about how to answer the dreaded "tell me about your strengths/weaknesses" interview question!

Role-plays can be fun for students. I ask them to play the role of an interviewer or recruiter. It helps build empathy for employers and co-workers as they gain understanding of how they may be experienced by others.

Another way to identify strengths is to start with the student's leisure activities. Often our students on the autism spectrum have highly developed interests. I always ask about these and brainstorm related skills and strengths (we often identify abilities such as uni-tasking, attention to detail, and computer skills).

A. Dipeolu   on Friday 04/05/2013 at 11:56 AM

Thanks, Jennine. These are wonderful ideas that I'm sure will go a long way to help career counselors as they work with this group of college students. Especially the use of role play. I cannot over-emphasize this particular intervention enough, especially when we are helping them to get ready for the world of work.

Good points. Again, thank you!

rol hec   on Sunday 04/07/2013 at 01:20 AM

Can you please send a list of potential employers (Government/Private/Non Profit) that give opportunities to college graduates with Aspergers Syndrome.

My son will be begin college (huge step) but what point is there (time/expense) for him to graduate from college and not be able to find satisfactory employment because of his social skill deficiency. Unless there are employers out there who make available job opportunities.

A. Dipeolu   on Wednesday 04/10/2013 at 12:56 PM

rol hec: I agree with you. What's the point of going to college if you end up unemployed! I think all parents are asking this kind of question. But will need to get back with you regarding request for list of employers.

Apologize for the late response.

Janine Rowe   on Wednesday 04/10/2013 at 03:08 PM

rol hec:

A combination of self-advocacy and flexibility of the employer/supervisor goes a long way in using the candidate's strengths and minimizing challenges. I think that the supervisor's management style and willingness to learn and understand is of great benefit in our students' placements.

Luckily for us, companies are beginning to notice to the benefits of hiring someone with ASD: reduced turnover, ability to focus for a long period of time, and attention to detail. Tax credits and increased diversity are other incentives.

Here are some companies who are well-known for their commitments in hiring people with ASD:
TIAA-CREF, which owns more than 400 farms, has established a program called Fruits of Employment, which hires people with autism to do farm work in two of its orchards and vineyards: http://dps.missouri.edu/Autism/2012AWNC/Fruits_Empl.pdf

Walgreens, which has designed regional distribution centers in South Carolina, Connecticut and Florida so people with disabilities, particularly autism, can work side by side with non-disabled employeehttp://www.walgreens.com/topic/sr/disability_inclusion_workplace.jsp

There are also two software testing companies that hire only people with ASD:
Aspiritech (http://www.aspiritech.org/)
and Specialisterne (http://specialistpeople.com/)

A. Dipeolu   on Wednesday 04/10/2013 at 03:15 PM

Janine: Perfect! These are good places to start. Thanks for sharing.

A. Dipeolu   on Tuesday 04/16/2013 at 09:35 PM

rol hec:

Here are a few more:

Alaska Airline, Pitney Bowes, and Safeway. Hope these are helpful or at least lead to some other ones. One good thing about what you are doing is that you are starting early. This is a vital lesson for everyone involved. Start ASAP.
Thank you for your interest.

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