Friday, August 21, 2015

Young Adults with Autism Entering the Work Force

Therapist's Editorial: Young Adults with Autism Entering the Work Force

I recently came across a very interesting article while on vacation.  Well, actually my husband did when reading his INC. Magazine.  Normally those types of articles are not “up my alley” as I prefer Better Homes & Gardens, but this was something that sparked my interest as well as a passion of mine.  The article was called “Making It Work” and it was about the growing population of people with Asperger’s (those on the Autism Spectrum Disorder) now transitioning into adulthood, entering the work force, and the struggles that are faced. Knowing this is not only in my career field but a strong interest of mine, my husband chose to pass the magazine over to me.  Despite it being more from a “business model” standpoint, I was able to relate as a therapist on different levels (my husband, the accountant, interestingly pulled very different points from it, which I always find amusing).  I thought I would share my “take-aways” as it is such a crucial part in our society that we must be able to grow with, or as the article title said, “make it work”.

The article started by saying this year alone, “50,000 people on the autism spectrum will enter the work force”.  It went on to share personal stories from both perspectives of young adults with ASD who are entering the work force, as well as business owners who have opened their employment needs to fit those with ASD.  Business models are making shifts to not only the roles they offer but also to their way of hiring.  As many know, a young adult on the spectrum may already be at a disadvantage the second an interview begins.  Interviewers look for eye contact, social skills, good communication skills and relatable personalities.  All things that may be extremely difficulty for someone on the spectrum.  To adapt the world of work to better meet the needs (and strengths) of this growing population, some businesses have begun giving series of assessments instead of interviews.  They look for their strengths, weaknesses, abilities, vulnerabilities (i.e. sensory, noises, communication) and are then able to have a better idea of if they are capable of doing the job and where they are best placed.  

A touching story of a father who has a son with Asperger’s really stood out to me, and in my opinion, captured the idea behind the article.  This father worried for the future of his 20-something son.  Many places of employment do not accommodate nor make a good fit for someone on the spectrum, leaving very few options for his son to make a living for himself.  So he took it upon himself to open up his own business:  a car wash, specifically designed to employ those on the spectrum.  How amazing!  His son is employed there along with other young adults on the spectrum and its process acknowledges the typical preference of those with ASD.  It is a highly structured environment.  It has a number of steps involved in each task that remains consistent, car after car.  It also limits direct involvement with customers.  It is a place where someone with ASD can work, be successful, and utilize their strengths.

Many other businesses are popping up with a similar approach (or modifying what was already there).  This is so important and so necessary for our day in age.  Instead of continuously trying to make people “fit” into a certain role (that inevitably may never fit), why can’t we modify our ways of doing things to utilize the strengths this population has?

There is so much more to this article; I barely brushed the surface.  And of course there are differing opinions and controversies over this model. But it touched me and inspired me, and I wanted to share it.  I found myself emotional, and so happy that people are moving in this direction.  Having worked very closely with a number of teens on the spectrum, I spent countless hours worrying where they will “fit” into society after they leave our school doors.  I feel a sense of relief knowing there are people out there taking this change on.  I only hope it continues to grow.  

Posted by: Shawna Paplaski, LCPC