How Does This “Work Stuff” Work?

/ March 1, 2016

By Janet Shouse 

About the Author


Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.


In recent blogs, I have talked about how having high expectations for a student with a disability is more likely to result in that student having paid employment when he or she finishes high school. Tyler Bates is a wonderful example of the power of high expectations.

Tyler Bates

Tyler Bates enjoys wearing his Buffalo Wild Wings uniform

Tyler, 21, is a person with autism who graduated last year with a regular diploma and is now working part-time and attending community college. His mother, Paige Bates, shared the story of their efforts in getting Tyler employed.

The Bates family lives in Clarksville, and Paige and Tyler began to work with Vocational Rehabilitation Services during his high school transition planning to help Tyler find a job.

The VR process “was kind of a rocky road,” Paige says. “The first counselor Tyler had denied VR services because his ‘disability was too severe.’ She didn’t feel that he would ever be able to work without a job coach.”

And what exactly is a “job coach”? According to the Job Accommodation Network (, job coaches are individuals who specialize in assisting individuals with disabilities to learn and accurately carry out job duties. Job coaches provide one-on-one training tailored to the needs of the employee. They may first do a job analysis to identify the job duties, followed by developing a specific plan as to how they can best train the employee to work more and more on his/her own until completely self-sufficient and able to perform job duties accurately and effectively without assistance. Sometimes, a job coach provides long-term supervision.

Paige and Tyler were not deterred by this initial response.

“We appealed that decision, and he was assigned a new counselor who was able to see Tyler’s potential. We were assigned to Progressive Directions Inc., who evaluated him,” Paige says. “They told us they had a new program they were starting where they could work with Tyler on basic job skills and professional behavior. He started about three months before graduation, going to the program half days.”

Progressive Directions worked with Tyler’s employer, Buffalo Wild Wings, to “carve out” a position for him rolling silverware in the mornings before the restaurant opens. The job coach worked with Tyler for about a month to make sure Tyler was able to do his job, clock in and out, and dress appropriately. The job coach also addressed any issues that came up on the job and created a checklist that Tyler follows every day.

So what is “job carving”? It is the act of analyzing work duties performed in a given job and identifying specific tasks that might be assigned to an employee with significant disabilities. They are tasks that need to be done, and for some individuals with a disability, a job that involves routine is a good match and can be rewarding.

Tyler was able to start work within two months of his high school graduation, and he has been employed for eight months, working six hours a week.

Does Tyler enjoy his work? “He does. He loves wearing a uniform and follows his routine,” Paige says. “He takes ‘the Lift,’ Clarksville’s public transportation for people with disabilities, back and forth to work each day, which takes a big load off of me. I don’t have to worry about how to get him to work.”

When asked about what he likes best about his job, Tyler, a man of few words, said, “Rolling silverware.” His attitude, however, speaks volumes, according to Paige. “I know if he wasn’t happy, he wouldn’t want to go!”

So, how does Paige feel about her son working?

“I love it that he is working. He needs purposeful activities to do, instead of just sitting around the house all day, and he likes getting a paycheck,” Paige says.

“He has also started taking classes at Nashville State Community College,” says Paige. “It’s an experiment since we don’t know how well he will do, so he is just auditing an English class right now. So far it is going well, and he loves being back in school.”

For individuals with disabilities and their families who are beginning to look at that transition from high school to work, Paige offered some suggestions:

  • Start early thinking about what your child’s strengths are.
  • Don’t let people discourage you or your child.
  • Think outside the box. “Our plan of going to school half day and going to the PDI program the other half was something new.”
  • Consider work programs while in high school. (We also tried having a work study period while he was in school but it wasn’t really embraced at the school level, but it could work better somewhere else.)

Check out “Getting a Head Start with Vocational Rehabilitation” on the TennesseeWorks website.

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