Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Addressing the employment problem with autism

According to a U.S. News article, many young adults with autism are more likely to be unemployed compared to adults with other disabilities.  This is a very glooming statistic considering that many young adults on the spectrum are considered to be very good workers and have a lot to offer as employees.  The unemployment issue with adults with autism is compounded by the lack of adequate job supports (e.g. a job coach) that can help individuals with autism spectrum disorders navigate the world of employment and the interpersonal interactions that are often required of most occupations.  This issue hits home for me as I am a newly college graduate who is embarking on the world of employment.  To make things more complicated is that most supported employment or vocational training programs are only equipped to dealing with those individuals who are more impacted by their disabilities and are only capable of securing menial jobs (e.g. working at Target or Ralphs as a box boy) .  For me,  finding a meaningful job which has a supportive and nurturing work environment is my top priority.  With that said, I will now offer some tips and solutions of how we can create more meaningful employment opportunities as well as how to create more supportive work environments so our adults on the spectrum can succeed in the work force.

1. Accommodations

The first thing I would suggest is that prospective employers need to create more accommodations for those on the spectrum that will allow them to complete work tasks successfully.    Too often, I feel that a lot of  time is spent on teaching the spectrum population to conform and integrate but it is a two way street.  Employers need to be understanding and aware of the challenges autism brings  and should take the effort in working with them and be sensitive to the limitations of those on the spectrum.  Some suggestions of useful accommodations that employers should use is visual aids and schedules such as creating task lists and also breaking down a task into step-by-step instructions that are manageable and easy to understand.  With an accommodating work environment, adults with neurodiverse conditions like myself can feel confident and become productive employees.

2.  Creating a Supportive and nurturing work culture

For me, the ideal work environment is one of collaboration in which each employee has a set of skills and experience that they can bring to the table.  Instead of having a one-way hierarchal system in which the boss has all the power and gives commands to the employees and suboardinates, I want an environment in which I can have an honest and open discussion with my supervisor and co-workers in which we can give each other feedback of how we can improve the productivity and operation of the entire business or company.  Like I said before, people on the spectrum have a lot of skills and experiences to employers and having a warm and nurturing work environment enables them to use their talents and skills.

3.  Having a nurturing supervisor
I talked a little bit about this in my previous point but a supportive boss or supervisor can make all the difference between really loving your job or hating it.  After all the boss is the one that writes your paycheck and the supervisor is the one you will be dealing with on a daily basis.  Overall, people on the spectrum generally do well with bosses and supervisors who have a generally calm demeanor and can help mentor them in gaining valuable work skills and experiences.  They allow room for mistakes or errors and treat them as learning experiences.  I personally like a supervisor who will take the time to get to know me as a person and learn about my strengths and weaknesses.

With these three main points, people on the spectrum can be productive workers who can make a living and feel good for what they do.  As Steve Silberman said at an event I attended at UCLA, "workplaces need to change to address the needs of those on the autism spectrum."

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Why autism is a feminist issue

According to some statistics by the CDC, autism is five times more common in boys than girls.   I don't know if this is a true statistic  but after reading many articles it probably has to do with a biased diagnostic criteria that caters to males.   Many of the women interviewed in these articles report that they received many psychiatric diagnoses before finally getting a diagnosis of autism.  This usually happens around young adulthood.  Perhaps the late consideration is due to the difficulty of diagnosing girls since they are better at masking their autistic symptoms than boys.  I am very lucky to have received my autism diagnosis in early childhood and did not have to go through elementary, middle and high school years unsupported and misunderstood.  Unlike the women mentioned in the articles I read, I was not good at masking my symptoms and did not mimic the social behaviors of my typical female peers very well.  I had a lot of stereotyped and repetitive behaviors and had to be taught  social skills to be able to navigate the complex social world.  Despite being diagnosed early, I still faced various challenges due to the fact that I was a female.  The social skills groups I was a part of as a child were composed mostly of boys.  In fact there was one group in which I was the only girl which made me feel incredibly isolated because I could not identify with the boys in the group.  This gender disparity in autism services and diagnosis should be given more attention. Since there are a lot more males on the autism spectrum, researchers tend to only include boys in their samples which results in less knowledge on how autism affects girls and women as well as interventions that address the unique needs of this population.     In my personal experience,  I wish more autism interventions were more relational or companionate in nature than the typical emphasis on skill building. that accompanies  traditional behavioral and social skills therapies.   What I mean by "relational" is interventions that target social and emotional development such as mentoring  with an older female peer or a older woman (either someone who is neurotypical or on the spectrum) who can act as a "big sister."   The big brother/big sister concept is already available to at-risk youth and I feel that this type of mentoring would also benefit young women and girls on the spectrum as well.   Another form of support I would like to see is for autistic women and girls to form a "sisterhood" or alliance with each other.  As a young woman on the autism spectrum, I feel it is important for us to support each other since we have a lot of shared experiences and we can lament of how hard it is to find other females on the spectrum since we are a minority in the autism community.  From writing this post, I am not saying that behavioral therapeutic interventions are not important since behavioral therapy has taught me the tools I need to navigate the school and college environment.  But, behavioral interventions are just  only one-part of the picture and cannot address all the complex emotional needs and challenges that come from being a female on the autism spectrum.