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What Could Be: Employment Possibilities

  • Posted on February 12, 2014 at 10:00 AM

I’ve just learned about a new program through the WI BPDD: Let’s Get to Work. This program presents its goals as being:

  • Earlier connection to vocational rehabilitation
  • Early work experiences while still in high school (paid and unpaid)
  • Better transition training for teachers
  • No entry for youth straight into segregated work settings
  • Access to transportation to get to work
  • Person centered planning to identify interests, strengths, skills
  • Engage the broader community and decision makers in discussions of youth employment
  • Access to general education core/academic classes and extra-curricular activities as they relate to the students’ interests and career goals
  • Connect students and their families to information on post-secondary and career options, work incentive benefits counseling, and community activities, starting no later than age 15.

It’s only at the pilot stage. But it’s promising, so promising… But it’s not the transition environment my family must navigate.

What Is: Employment Possibilities

  • Posted on February 10, 2014 at 10:00 AM

The frustration is ever-present. I look at my sons: Willy, Alex, and Ben. I see their potential. They are different children with different interests, different abilities, and different futures. I see how bright their futures could be.

But, when I look around at what is within my community, the future turns dark. Sure, Willy’s potential and abilities are well-recognized. After all, he’s close enough to normal for those charged with preparing him for the future to see something bright ahead of him. But, then there’s Alex, who is not normal, not even close. He’s gifted and talented, but also significantly disabled. The future proposed for him involves sheltered workshops and a lifetime of dependence and poverty.

I’ve visited one of these workshops for an article I wrote. The people were kind, caring, and committed to the people with developmental disabilities in their care. The entire environment was devoted to giving these people, who were believed by some to be incapable of work, an opportunity to work and to socialize and to participate in their community. The people I spoke to believe in what they do and believe that what they do is in the best interests of their workers.

Yet, I also know that there are instances of abuse in workshops just like that. I know these environments are segregated. I know the work they do is menial, not artistic. I know they are paid subminimum wages. I know that these people often go “home” to group homes where professional caregivers halfheartedly tend to their needs.

This is better than what used to be, but it’s far from what could be. And it’s not good enough for my son. It shouldn’t be good enough for anyone.

Disability Employment: The Chronic Crisis

  • Posted on December 16, 2013 at 10:00 AM

In November 2013, 68.6% of Americans without disabilities participated in the workforce. Only 19.6% of Americans with disabilities participated in the workforce. Of the 68.6% of Americans without disabilities who participated in the workforce, 6.4% of them were unemployed. Of the 19.6% of Americans with disabilities who participated in the workforce, 12.3% of them were unemployed. This isn’t a lingering effect of the recession. This is a chronic problem that has gone on for years.

If it were any other American minority group, there would be public outcry and a demand for action. Unfortunately, people with disabilities don’t warrant that much attention from the general public. Despite the persistent prejudice against people with disabilities:

  • People with disabilities are employable.
  • People with disabilities can make substantial contributions as part of our workforce.
  • There is no excuse for these discrepancies.

I’m not going to dwell on this. The numbers speak for themselves. But I will return later this week with more information.

Voices: Dr. Manny

  • Posted on November 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Dr. Manny threw his considerable support behind Chris Tuttle and the movement to employ people on the autism spectrum when he wrote a brief article raising awareness about Tuttle’s experience, the growing employment opportunities, and Dr. Manny’s expectations for society:

“No matter what, I will always stand up for the rights of people on the autism spectrum and try to spread awareness about this disorder. Fortunately, many industries today are starting to focus on creating employment initiatives for this population, which is such a wonderful enterprise. We want all people – regardless of disability – to have opportunities for independence and growth. But this can only be accomplished if we have a tolerant and understanding society.”

As much as I support and applaud this sentiment, as much as I empathize with Dr. Manny’s experiences as the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, and as much as I want to support all the good things Dr. Manny said and all the positive awareness he’s raised, I can’t help but get stuck on his opening sentence: “Today, I became aware of a story about a grocery store employee afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome, who was unnecessarily harassed by a female customer,” (emphasis added).

Contrast that brow-raising assertion with the original article, which stated:

“Tuttle-Virkler noted in her post that her brother was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disability characterized by difficulties in social exchanges and repetitive patterns or behaviors. Tuttle-Virkler said that the incident really upset her brother,” (emphasis added).

It’s hard to raise awareness about the abilities of people with disabilities while still using the language of disability-as-affliction.

Waiting for Acceptance

  • Posted on August 7, 2013 at 10:00 AM

So, I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. I’ve officially applied to Rutgers graduate program to study Public Administration and nonprofit management. Now, I have to wait to find out if I’m going to get in and if everything that’s out of my control will happen in time for me to start this fall. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, I’m still waiting for a good job offer. Despite my preference for nonprofit work, I’ve expanded my job search to for-profit writing (i.e. marketing) opportunities, because I have more experience in that field and because there are simply more opportunities for marketers in my area at the moment. But I still have to wait for the right organization to offer me the right opportunity.

So, there’s a lot of waiting going on here. Waiting isn’t my strong-suit, but I’m learning patience. At least, the feelings of anxiety are lessening. That’ll have to pass for patience for now.

The Employment Conundrum

  • Posted on June 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM

If you’re paying attention to the world of employment, then you might think the tide against homogenous thinking is turning. Maybe it is.

“The multinationals [SAP & Freddie Mac] both say they hope to harness the unique talents of autistic people as well as giving people previously marginalized in the workforce a chance to flourish in a job.” -- Fox News

For those of us who have people with autism in our lives, this may be seen as an opportunity. If you’re an adult with autism, there are people out there who value your unique qualities as employable assets. If you’re the parent of a child with autism, your child might have an employable future. This should be seen as good news, right?

I’ve read a variety of articles that communicate a changing trend. I’ve seen universities, employers, and other organizations all expressing their perception of the value of people with autism. As a neurodiversity advocate, this seems very much like what I’ve been working for, hoping for, fighting for. But then I remember that what I really want is a chance for my children, and everyone like them, to be valued for who they are.

You see, there’s a problem with all of this. I feel it like a shadow creeping up behind me. I feel it like slimy fingers along my spine. I feel it like the brush of coarse fabric against my skin.

Is valuing someone because they are autistic any better than NOT valuing someone because they’re autistic? Either way, it’s judging someone’s value based on a preconceived notion of who that person is and what they can or should be able to do. In other words, it’s prejudice.

I get the same creepy crawly feeling when I hear affirmative action expressed as a good thing. I’m sorry, but how is judging someone favorably for their race any less an act of racial prejudice, especially when it means judging someone else unfavorably for their race?

On the one hand, if we do nothing, then people with autism will still be marginalized. On the other hand, if we convince people in power that people with autism have a peculiar set of traits that can add value to their workforce, then…people with autism will still be marginalized, but at least some of them will be employed.

Practically speaking, I recognize that there is a real-world trade-off going on here. I recognize that, as abhorrent as the practice may seem to me, affirmative action serves a purpose. I recognize that marginalized but employed is better than marginalized and unemployed.

But, aside from these practical realities, the truth is this doesn’t change anything. The real problem isn’t simply that people with autism are unemployed or that people who are not white are less favorably employed than people who are white. These very real, life-altering hardships are symptoms, both of them, of a much bigger cultural disease.

Prejudice is alive and well in our cultures. Prejudice has a deep, lasting, traumatic, and obviously negative impact on the lives of real people. The cure to this cultural disease, the cure to prejudice, is not to tweak prejudice to be more favorable. The cure to this cultural disease is for everyone within the culture to open their eyes and see a fellow human being—not a white male or a black female or a black male autistic or whatever other boxes you might put a person in.

I don’t care what your skin color is, what your diagnosis is, or whether you have a diagnosis. You have value. You have something you can contribute to society. You have a reasonable expectation to earn a living contributing in some fashion to society. When applying for a job, you should be judged solely on whether or not you can do the job that needs to be done.

Granted, in certain cases, designing jobs that meet organizational needs and yet accommodate for existing weaknesses is a very good thing. I’m all for it. Until you stick a label on it. As soon as you designate that job to a certain label, you dehumanize the people who can do the job with the accommodations in place. The fact is there are people who are similar to people with autism who do not qualify for or do not have access to an autism diagnosis. Some of them have other diagnoses. Some of them have none. Can they do the job? Can they benefit from the accommodations? Does a label really matter? The fact is that the label only matters in a world where prejudice reigns.

Pick-Ups & Employment

  • Posted on May 1, 2013 at 10:00 AM

It’s rare that an entire week goes by without us receiving at least one call from the schools to pick up at least one of our children.

This is frustrating and disruptive on so many levels, but I want to seriously consider one of those levels right now. It makes the prospect of full-time, traditional-style employment unlikely for me.

Here’s why:

  1. Mark doesn’t drive.
  2. Our only back-up person is my mother, who is traditionally employed.
  3. School and traditional work-days tend to coincide.
  4. Few, if any, employers are flexible enough for staff to take time off at unexpected times at least once a week.

The end-result is that if I were to try to hold down a traditional job while things being the way they are, I would get fired.

The problem with this scenario is that, to make effective use of my newly acquired graduate degree, I’m considering traditional employment. I’ve even applied to the few positions I’ve found that seem to require my qualifications.

I can’t be constantly on-call for the school and support my family. It seems to me like this is an unreasonable expectation.

What do you think?


  • Posted on May 27, 2011 at 7:56 PM

I have recently been working on a nonfiction book which I had tentatively entitled Neurodiversity at Work: A Manager’s Guide.  In my mind, I envisioned it as a research-based how-to manual managers could use to open up their organizations to the neurological diversity of the workforce available to them.  In my heart, this was the book I wanted to write, because it’s the book I wanted to be put into practice.

The deeper I got into the project—accumulating research material, writing chapters, delving into the heart of the how-to—the more I grew wary of my topic.  More and more of my revised pages were devoted to the importance of opening up organizations to the neurologically diverse; fewer were devoted to the practical aspects of how to accomplish this goal.  As I’ve progressed I realized something as a writer that I already knew as an advocate; I realized that the audience I want for the book I very much wanted to write does not, yet, exist.

There are still too few arguments for opening organizations up to a neurologically diverse workforce—despite the law, despite the social movement, despite the justice and advantages.  It’s not that companies are struggling with the how; it’s that they don’t really understand the why. 

Simply put, I realized I needed to write the equivalent of a prequel, then invest my time and energies on a follow-up how-to book.  Advocacy first, practical how-to second.

Now, with this decision in place, my reluctance is replaced with energy and drive.  But, it’s also rather sad.  It’s sad that the advocacy book is necessary.  It’s sad that we’re still at this point where people need to learn how doing the right thing is in their own best interests.  It’s sad that we’re still so focused on normal that we forget the power of extraordinary.

So, it’s time to start back at the beginning.  It’s time to write the book that needs to be written.  And to hope that, someday, the book I really want to write will need to be written, too.

Getting Hired 101

  • Posted on February 23, 2010 at 2:15 AM

There are two basic problems that impede autistics who are able to work from obtaining a job, especially one that suits their skills.  The first impediment is that employers, i.e. the managers and human resource professionals whose job it is to hire appropriate personnel, are not adequately (or sometimes at all) prepared to assess the employability of an individual with autism.  This issue I intend to address as part of my long-term career as a business writer.  Other than continuing with advocacy efforts, there’s little the average concerned individual can do to change this situation.

The second impediment is that potential employees are rarely trained to market themselves effectively.  This is true for most workers or potential workers.  This is, perhaps, especially true for potential workers with autism.  The latter is an issue you can address directly, which I can assist with indirectly.  And that is the purpose of this post.

What does it mean to “market yourself?”

Simply put, from the point of view of the employer, you are a resource—or a potential resource.  Businesses have needs they must fill.  Some of these needs are filled by obtaining capital—they turn to investors or lenders to fill this need.  Some of the needs are filled by obtaining physical assets—they use funds to buy or lease buildings, equipment, and supplies to fill this need.  Some of these needs are filled by obtaining labor—and that’s where you and all the other potential workers come in.

Your task is to convince the employer that you can satisfy their need effectively.  Thus, you must market yourself!

Where do you start?

The first thing you need to do is to honestly assess two things:

1) What do you have to offer?  In other words, what employer needs can you satisfy?

For example, I am a skilled writer.  I have evidence that backs this up in the form of published work and unbiased praise.  (This is, of course, not to suggest that there isn’t plenty of room for improvement.)  I’m also knowledgeable about business, seeing that I’ve nearly completed my baccalaureate in Business Management with a concentration in Business Administration.  My career path is based on these two attributes.

2) What do you require in return for your services?  Consider the wages and benefits you demand, of course.  But you must also consider the working conditions and other factors as well.

For example, I will not work for an employer who demands I compromise my ethics.  I prefer not to work in noisy conditions.

The next thing you need to do is to look at the jobs available in your area and ask yourself:

1) Of these jobs, what category of jobs fits my skills and demands?

2) How are these positions filled?

This step is very important, but also one that is readily skipped over.  There are some jobs that are often filled by head-hunters.  These are usually professional positions for which the pool of candidates is spread over the entire country or the world.  There are other jobs that are filled through ads in papers, online, or at job centers.  There are other jobs that are filled through network connections.  These jobs are often never advertised.  There are jobs that are only advertised with a sign on the proprietor’s door.

Knowing what jobs you’re qualified for and how those positions are filled is an essential component in knowing how to market yourself for the jobs you can get.

How do I market myself?

This step depends a great deal on the steps above.

What if the position I want is filled using head-hunters?

Then, you need to make sure head-hunters have access to your professional portfolio.  If you don’t know what that means, then you need the assistance of a professional resume writer.  That is beyond the purview of this post.

What if the position I want is filled through a resume/interview/testing combination?

First, do some research about the company.  If all you have is their ad, then use that.  Ask yourself:

  • What are they looking for?
  • Am I really qualified?
  • How can I communicate that I’m qualified?

The answers to these questions make up your resume.  Let’s assume you have a generic resume that has your qualifications, your employment history, and your education on it.

Don’t send that!!!

What you need is to tailor your resume to their needs.  Don’t start with an objective; instead, start with a marketing statement.  Then, go into your strongest section, which will hopefully be your employment history, but may also be volunteer work.  Don’t write out your responsibilities; instead, write out your accomplishments.  Don’t tell them what you were assigned to do; tell them what you did do.  Not sure how to do that?  Consider talking to a professional resume writer or spending some time with resume writing books.  Move on from there.  Consider this your sell sheet—you are the “product” and you want to describe yourself in such a way that your “customer” knows that you are exactly what he or she needs.

If done right, the resume (and cover letter) will get you the interview.  Use the resume to structure your interview.  Whenever possible, focus on your accomplishments and your selling points.  Practice.  Rehearse.  Prepare.

The testing would be scheduled around the time of your interview.  Do the best you can.  Be well rested.  Be prepared.  Relax.

What if the position I want is filled through network connections?

Then, you need to do the resume stuff, but you also need to talk with people.  Let people who might be in a position to help know that you’re looking for work.  Ask around.  These jobs won’t be advertised, but that doesn’t mean they’re not available.

What if the position I want is filled through an application/interview combination?

Not all jobs require resumes.  Some employers won’t even look at them.  They want you to fill out their application and that’s all they are really willing to consider.

For these jobs, the resume and portfolio are out.  However, you still need to be able to market yourself.  You still need to know what need they are trying to fill and how you can satisfy this need.

For example, if you’re applying for a job as a house painter, you might want to talk about your “head for heights” and your attention to detail.  You want to give examples of the quality painting jobs you’ve done in the past (if you have any) and how you’re reliable (assuming you are, if not—don’t bring it up).  Think about what they need and want, and tell them how you satisfy.

This is just a start.  If you have questions, feel free to e-mail me.  If there’s enough interest, I can go into more detail in subsequent posts.

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