What skills will your child need to be employable? Hint: It's not academics

by Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW
A recent report from the World Economic Forum highlights the top ten skills that will be required to be employable in 2020.  Granted this is only two years away however there are some noticeable differences from the 2015 list.   While all of the skills listed in the 2020 list could fall under the umbrella of social cognitive skills several stand out in particular.  These include:
-People Management
-Coordinating with others
-Emotional Intelligence
-Cognitive Flexibility
These five skills in particular often do not develop naturally in individuals who present with social learning challenges often associated with ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome and related challenges.  Furthermore, these skills do not simply develop to the same degree  in children and teens who are diagnosed with mild neurodevelopmental challenges, they need to be taught. 
Learning  how to understand other’s thoughts, feelings and intentions, understanding how you come across to others and developing the cognitive flexibility to work successfully as part of a group fall under the umbrella of social thinking skills.  Social thinking skills as defined by Michelle Garcia Winner, the creator of Social Thinking® requires one to think in a social context and apply skills relevant to the situation.   
While most parents contact me because their child is struggling with developing or maintaining friendships I explain to parents that my goal is to help students develop the social thinking skills they will need to be employable one day.  
A 2013 study done by Aparajita Kuriyan and associates found the following outcomes for young adults with ADHD between the ages of 23 and 32:

  • They are 11 times more likely to be unemployed and not in school.
  • They are 4 times more likely to be in unskilled vs. clerical occupation, and 6 times more likely to be in unskilled vs. professional occupations.
  • 61% more likely to have ever been fired, compared to 43% of the comparison group.
  • 33% more likely to have ever been laid off, compared to 13% of the comparison group.
  • 53% more likely to have ever quit a job due to dislike, compared to 36% of the comparison group.
  • They earned close to $2 per hour less in wages than the comparison group.

The research on individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s and higher-verbal ASD shows a higher percentage of individuals who do not complete college, are underemployed as well as unemployed.
While this study did not look specifically at the role of social cognitive skills I believe it is safe to assume that lagging social thinking skills is a strong variable in this data. 
I often suggest to parents to spend more time focusing on helping their child develop their social thinking skills, resiliency and cognitive flexibility and less time worrying about grades as grades and IQ scores are not an accurate indicator of future success.
As many parents have learned, social skills groups often teaching scripted, socially appropriate behaviors rather than helping students understand the “bigger picture” of the skills they will require to be employable one day.   When I teach social thinking skills I emphasize to students of all ages that we are working on developing skills that are required to help them not only to connect with similar-age peers but to be employable one day.  
Learn more about the work we do at:
Center for ADHD (Bryn Mawr, PA & Linwood, NJ)
Social Thinking is the work of Michelle Garcia Winner, CCC-SLP.  Learn more at: www.socialthinking.com

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