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."

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