Searching Employment Autism
Over the last 20 years, there has been an alarming increase for children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the year 2000 1 in 159 children would be diagnosed with ASD. In the latest version of the study, the number has been reduced to 1 in 59 children will be diagnosed with ASD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). This is a subject that is close to my heart as I recently learned that one of my own children has been diagnosed with ASD and we are working on a prognosis to allow him to lead as normal of a life as possible. Vocation, education, and culture are the areas that I feel are most challenging for indivuals with autism regarding normal and abnormal behavior. trying to fit into these areas is a something about society’s view of normal in these areas with limited help and resources.
When it comes to choosing the correct educational placement of an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be very difficult to choose the least restrictive environment. This is because no two individuals with autism have the exact same needs. They may have some similar attributes such as delay in spoken language, repetitive motor movements, distressed by changes in schedule and rigid/inflexible thinking, but the cognitive ability levels can vary greatly between individuals (Pratt, 2017). On one end, you may have an individual who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s (a high functioning Autism Diagnosis) and on the other end you may have a person who has low intellectual functioning with the same diagnosis of ASD. Just because the individual has an educational or medical diagnosis or Autism does not mean that they will be successful in the same type of educational environment. There appears to be a trade off when deciding the best educational placement for students with ASD. If you focus more on the academic needs of the individual behaviors often arise or become more prevent because they are not learning the skills needed to deal with stress intrinsically and if you focus more on the coping skills for preventing behaviors then the individual is more likely to fall behind academically.
There is not or should not be a general placement for individuals that have ASD; instead, is should be based on individual need so it does not limit their individual potential. Student placement should focus on desired long-term outcomes. When discussing placement options, the educational team must maintain a focus on the individual and preferences of people diagnosed with ASD. Some educational choices for individuals with ASD include placement in general education classrooms paired with a general education student. Also, being taught in a special education class and a general education class during the day. Being paired with a general education classmate will assist the student with ASD in socialization, learning proper communication skills from peers as they are in a mainstream “normal” environment. Being taught in a special education classroom and a general education classroom has the same goal as mainstreaming with a classmate. Time in the special education classroom decreases has student learns skills needed to study and function in general education classroom. These types of settings are a positive for the students with ASD and the general education students as it creates awareness and a culture of acceptance.
After education comes employment, not just for the typical individual but those with ASD as well. Those with ASD have the ability and desire to work. The work available ranges from sheltered workshops to supported employment to competitive employment. I must first start by explaining the difference between the three viable options. The first, sheltered workshops, are companies that employ workers with disabilities at less than minimum wage. These companies generally hire a majority people with disabilities. Next, supportive employment, is considered to be one form of employment in which wages are expected, but there are specific provisions, such as tax breaks, financial assistance or job coaching are offered to the individual or employing company. Finally, competitive employment is where wages are at least minimum wage and pay is comparable to non-disabled workers performing the same duties. There has long been the sigma that if a person has a disability, they cannot compete with a non-disabled peer for the same job because they are somehow less. Throughout history it has been shown that some of the brightest minds are from people with disabilities. The list includes Franklin D. Roosevelt, Claude Monet, Temple Grandin and Albert Einstein (the last two from ASD).
Research has proven that people with ASD are not typical people with disabilities. Individuals with ASD typically rate higher than their non-disabled peers in the following areas: trustworthiness, reliability and lower absenteeism (Hendricks, 2010) .This has a direct effect on the bottom line of the companies that employ them as more work is getting accomplished and there is less turn over in employees. According Dawn Hendricks individuals with ASD also have an increased attention to detail and higher focus ability, which increases work output (Hendricks, 2010). The goal, whether the individual has been diagnosed with ASD or some sort of other disability is to find competitive employment, unfortunately that is not the case for many people. Once a person enters the work force at a specific level, they are pigeon holed there for an indefinite amount of time. It is difficult for them to break through the glass ceiling to transition to a less restrictive work environment based on stigma alone.
There are programs out there that can assist individuals with transitioning between work environments. In California, the Department of Education offers the Workability Program. It provides pre-employment skills training, employment placement and follow-up for special education students who are transitioning from school to work, independent living and/or postsecondary education or training. Services are evaluated and based on individual student needs, abilities, and interests. Students are given the opportunity to complete their secondary education while also obtaining marketable job skills. The Workability program seeks employers who will give students with special needs a chance to prove themselves in a competitive integrated employment setting (California Department of Education, 2018). A lack of employers and co-works understanding of the disorder hinders successful employment for individuals with ASD (Hendricks, 2010). Employers looking at behaviors instead of skill and capabilities suggests that autism awareness trainings could be helpful in giving knowledge to employers and co-workers resulting in a successful work environment for individuals with ASD.
In 2016, the movie, The Accountant came out. Its plot line is that Ben Affleck is an individual diagnosed with Autism who is wanted by the Treasury Department for laundering money. He appears normal with a few idiosyncrasies that are commonly associated with Autism. This is one of the major challenges for individuals diagnosed with ASD. They appear normal to the common person. They do not have tell-tale signs of their disability such as physical deformities or obvious cognitive disabilities (unless they have other disabilities as well). When they do start to exhibit some of the ritualist behaviors such as hand flapping, meltdowns over changes in scheduling or sensitivity to touch or texture; it may catch some of their peers of guard. An area of extreme concern is socialization with non-disabled peers. Many individuals with ASD use social camouflaging to mask their social awkwardness and anxiety about social situations (Hull, et al., 2017). The individuals watch the successful social interactions of their peers, usually taking extensive mental note of how the interactions take place before inserting themselves into the settings. According to Hull, they will not become the alpha in the situation in the setting or the situation, but will instead become part of the social circle but only will interact when forced to do so. If the location of the setting is changed or new members are introduced into the social circle if causes great stress and can lead to mental health disorders (Hull, et al., 2017).
Although culture values do play a role in the onset (recognized symptoms) and diagnosis of autism, it does not affect one culture more than another. The families’ cultural view will determine which goals are important. Most of the family’s value individualism and prefer to teach children collectivism. The collective theory places a high value on interdependence, cooperation and compliance. A common goal for autism is to teach independence through academic learning, language, communication and decreasing behavioral issues (Pitten, 2008). Ideally, family support, education and acceptance would build self-esteem for individuals with ASD thus allowing them to venture out to other social circles is best practice. According to Marisa Etheridge, having the family practice social interaction, positive self-awareness and communication cues, it allows the individual with ASD a safe and comforting environment to learn and make mistakes without judgement. When the time comes to use the skills in a less structured and controlled environment; the individual will be able to use the previously practiced skills to aide in social interactions and make it a more positive experience for them.
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are in a unique situation because they have no tell-tale signs of having a disability. This is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. It can have affects their education by incorrect placement according to just disability, their job status because they are seen as having a disability and socially they often lack the skills needs to participate in social interactions without feeling awkward. The disability of Autism did not just pop up overnight, but it is becoming one of the most common disability in our society today. Individuals with ASD should be seen as just that, individuals. Each person has individual strengths and challenges that should be praised and targeted to make them successful members of society. Once we are able to do that we will take a large step towards being a diverse inclusive culture.
- California Department of Education. (2017, July 3). WorkAbility I: A California Transition Program. Retrieved October 8, 2018, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/sr/wrkabltyI.asp
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, April 26). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
- Etheridge, M. (2018, October 08). Social considerations for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder [Personal interview].
- Marisa is the Program Coordinator for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder for the Madera County Superintendent of Schools.
- Hendricks, D. (2010). Employment and adults with autism spectrum disorders: Challenges and strategies for success. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32, 125-134. doi:10.3233/JVR-2010-0502
- Hull, L., Petrides, K. V., Allison, C., Smith, P., Baron-Cohen, S., Lai, M., & Mandy, W. (2017, May 19). “Putting on My Best Normal”: Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions. Retrieved October 8, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5509825/
- Pitten, K., R.N. (2008, Spring). HOW CULTURAL VALUES INFLUENCE DIAGNOSIS. Retrieved October 8, 2018, from https://www2.rivier.edu/journal/ROAJ-Spring-2008/J130-Pitten.pdf
- Pratt, C., Dr. (2017, March 22). Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved October 8, 2018, from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/characteristics