In December 2015 our son Trevor, who was diagnosed with autism at age 5, graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Film and Media Studies. Despite the challenges and all of the change Trevor endured in his college experience, he graduated with a 3.5 GPA with very little assistance. He also experienced living by himself, living with nice and not-so-nice roommates, internships, and a summer job as a photographer at a boys camp in North Carolina. He gained a tremendous amount of life experience and learned a ton about himself as a person. His graduation in December put an exclamation point on a very rich college experience. But college is only one race in the marathon called life; his next race - employment - was yet to start.
Agreeing on Job Description and Salary
We all agreed that we needed to have clarity on what Trevor's job description would be, how much he would be paid, and what other benefits he would receive in our employment. We discussed all of this with Trevor in the form of a formal offer to him in January which he could evaluate with any other job offers he received during the month of January. On February 1 he accepted our offer.
The 2026 Vision
For each of the three lines of business, we asked Trevor to put together a vision of what he wanted to have achieved by the year 2026. We wanted him to think big and put something together that he would be excited about.
The Monthly "Dones"
Having a great vision of where you want to be in 10 years is great, but we also needed to put in place a simple tool where we can agree upon what is going to get done each month and have a feedback mechanism to talk about results. In doing so, we came up with a monthly "Dones" document that we manage through OneNote. There are three columns:
- The Mission statement from Trevor's 2026 vision
- The "Planned Done" that Trevor constructed and we reviewed at the beginning of the month
- The "Actual Result" of what was achieved at the end of the month.
We have a done statement for five different areas; his three lines of business, a professional development done, and a service/volunteering done. We added the last two because we wanted to encourage an investment in himself through professional development as well as an investment in others through volunteering and providing service to charitable organizations. We also included a targeted percent of time in the mission as well as an actual percent of time spent in the actual result as a guide to how much time he should be spending in each area. Below is snapshot of the Dones template (data masked for privacy).
As we got into our journey, we realized that some form of time tracking was important for us to do. Not only was it important for us to do to keep us aligned on where Trevor was spending his time, it was also an important step to keep us from micro-managing his work each day. We created a simple excel spreadsheet with four columns:
- Date - the date of the activity
- Category - the category the activity aligns to. The categories include the five Dones areas plus holiday, vacation, sick, administration, and other
- Hours - the amount of hours spend on the activity
- Comments - supporting detail describing the activity.
Based on Trevor's time tracking we generate a time distribution of how Trevor spends his time each month using an Excel Pivot Table. Trevor then creates a pie chart showing a percentage distribution of where his time is spent each month. Below is the time distribution for work done in May (data masked for privacy)
At the beginning of each month, Trevor, Patty and I sit down together and we talk through what got done for the prior month, where he is spending his time, and what he will get done in current month. These conversations get better and better with each month. Our discussions revolve around praise/suggestions for prior month dones, suggestions on how to execute current month dones, and helping him in areas that he needs assistance. Our conversations aren't all rainbows and unicorns as we want him to experience the professional workforce as realistically as possible. We also expose him to the financial numbers for his lines of business so he sees both the revenue and expense side of what he's doing. Even with some of the constructive messages we're able to keep the ball moving forward each month.
While we've had success using this approach with Trevor, there will undoubtedly be some bumps in the road that we will have to address. At this stage in the process, we are encouraged that we are helping Trevor onboard to a fruitful professional career and are helping him to build the long-term skills he needs to succeed.
For more about advocating autism in the workplace check out Six-Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces.
Lonnie Pacelli is a project management, leadership development, and autism awareness advocate. Most importantly he is Trevor Pacelli's dad. see more about him at lonniepacelli.com