Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Employment for Adults with Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities: In July 2012, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Declared That the Employment of People with Disabilities Is Unfinished Business and Needs to Be a National Priority

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Employment for Adults with Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities: In July 2012, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Declared That the Employment of People with Disabilities Is Unfinished Business and Needs to Be a National Priority

Article excerpt

"We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems."

--Margaret Mead

There comes a time in our youth when one starts thinking about the job one wants as an adult. As parents, you have those thoughts and expectations as well. And even though we know that people with autism deserve the same opportunity to dream about their future without limitations, we limit their job prospects by defining only what is known in the context of their school and local community. People with autism have told me that their job is a part of who they are and not just an income, and many have overcome many challenges to join the workforce--including the expectations of people who were there to support them. So, sometimes it's important to revisit how we provide employment opportunities to individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities in order to move forward.

It has been an eventful time for Autism Speaks' Adult Services employment initiatives. To highlight and record the employment status of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, we convened an Employment Think Tank where people from across the country came together to share their experiences and recommendations. What was clear from this incredible group of leaders was the commitment to increase employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. How that is to be achieved depended on whom you asked.

Individuals with autism, parents, service providers and academic experts focused on several issues, such as accommodations for the interview process; how, when and if to disclose your disability; underemployment; the need for meaningful and value-based employment; transportation options; and the clarity of job requirements.

Employers shared their lessons learned. They collectively expressed that hiring people with autism and other developmental disabilities is important for their company's success. Employers cautioned that appropriate supports and accommodations need to be planned carefully in order for the true strengths and abilities of a person to be fully realized. They also found that natural supports can be as effective as a job coach, once the job coach has faded and in those cases where there is no formal job coach. But training for the employee and employer on the talents and needs of adults with developmental disabilities is critical to success. Companies need to have easy access to services and supports, employers said, that help to recruit and train employees with developmental disabilities.

As a group, these thought leaders discussed practices that show promise for hiring more employees with autism. There was a consensus that the interview process could be used as an opportunity to assess the candidate's ability to perform the job or be trained, as opposed to a question and answer interview. For example, a "walkthrough" of the actual job or trial work days would be a better way for the employer and potential employee to determine the candidate's suitability to do the job. Avoiding jargon and small talk would also be helpful for the job candidate. Jargon should also be avoided by the job coach.

Other suggestions by the business leaders include developing natural supports from the first day on the job so the relationship between the employer and employee is not reliant on the job coach for support. Ultimately, business leaders hope that supervisors can become the job coach, ensuring that the workplace culture is reflected in the attitudes of local managers.

Employers, individuals with disabilities and families have all commented on the need for easy-to-read literature on supports, funding and benefits. In response, Autism Speaks has created an Employment Tool Kit written for the adult with autism and any other stakeholder working with them. The Tool Kit gives resources on Social Security and benefits, self-advocacy, resume writing and interviewing skills, information on vocational rehabilitation and may more tips to make the job search process that much easier. …

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