compassionate capitalism my impossible dream?
Perhaps trying to combine compassion with capitalism is like mixing oil
and water. In today’s world of instant gratification, short-term profits, and
“me-first-now,” the concept of compassionate capitalism probably sounds like an
oxymoron to most business leaders. That’s why my daughter Sarah and others like
her on the autistic spectrum are out of luck when it comes to finding jobs as
adults. It doesn’t matter that Sarah
graduated from Pace University cum laude,
or that she’s motivated, hard-working, and reliable. Her social challenges make it nearly
impossible for her to network, write cover letters, or “do well” on an
interview. (See “Maybe Next Year,” 12/5/14). Beyond the safety net of SSI, ACCES-VR and
other government services, young adults with ASDs (autistic spectrum disorders)
have been abandoned by American society.
Worse, unlike other minorities suffering from discrimination, the very
nature of the social challenges of people with ASDs render them unable to appropriately
organize protests, lobby congressmen, hire lawyers or voice their outrage. Unless their parents are willing and able to
advocate for them, the Sarahs of the world will be relegated to the sidelines,
living unproductive and marginal lives. Oh, and did I mention they’ll end up in
relief programs supported by taxpayers at a cost of billions?
way, autism is big business. Like many
other childhood disabilities, autism generates a variety of expensive special
needs services in the medical, educational, psychological and behavioral
realms. Parents feed many dollars into
our capitalist system in order to receive these critical services for their
children. No wonder autism has generated
a booming industry with: behavioral therapists, speech therapists, occupational
therapists, developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists and pharmacologists. (And
that’s just scratching the surface!) The demand for ABA (Applied Behavioral
Analysis) alone—currently considered the most effective treatment for autism—far
exceeds the supply. On Google, I visited
one ABA site where there were over 6,000 openings for ABA therapists! And what about all of the special education
teachers and tutors needed to work with 1 out of every 68 children born with
autism? Clearly there aren’t enough
people to fill those jobs either. Even colleges have developed expensive
support programs for students with Asperger’s Syndrome and higher functioning
ASDs. In addition, the autism conundrum employs researchers and pharmaceutical
companies looking for prevention, treatments and ultimately, a cure (however
unpopular that idea may be to the neurodiversity movement). Clearly, autism has become a billion dollar industry.
who’s paying for the lion’s share of this billion dollar business? The parents, of course! I should know Henry
and I paid for all the services listed above plus many more—most of them NOT
covered by insurance. And what do we
have to show for our investment? Our
daughter: a lovely, brave, motivated young woman who managed to graduate from
college, but who still has challenges as she longs to be independent. What she
needs now is: a job, a home of her own (NOT an institution), some life skill
support and a community that will embrace her.
But our capitalist society (mostly) doesn’t provide services to young
adults with autism because THEY can’t pay for the expensive therapy and
treatments previously funded by their parents. By the time these kids on the
spectrum grow up, most of their parents have exhausted their resources in
addition to being near retirement. We
are tapped out and worried about what will become of our “special needs”
grownups when we are no longer around to watch over them. The neurotypical
children who bullied or ignored our “different” kids usually don’t grow into
compassionate adults who care about inclusion in the workplace.
Of course there are some
intelligent and compassionate exceptions.
According to Business Insider,
two MIT graduates Rajesh Anandan and Art Schectman recently founded ULTRA
Testing, a software-testing company created ESPECIALLY to hire people on the
autistic spectrum. (Bravo!) Anandan has
always believed that people with disabilities often have hidden talents that
others fail to notice. For example, he
says, someone who born blind might have superior hearing and someone born deaf
might have better-than-average sight.
The fact that people with autism and Asperger’s tend to engage in
repetitive behaviors that many might consider boring is exactly what makes them
uniquely qualified to stay focused on testing whether a particular piece of
software works on different devices, operating systems and web browsers over
and over again.
end of 2014, ULTRA Testing expects to make $1 million in revenues and has
already paid dividends to the employees on its team, (who are also earning a
respectable $15 – 20 per hour). Unlike other similarly staffed non-profit software
companies, ULTRA Testing is unique because it’s a for-profit business. In the next three years, the company plans to
expand to between 250 and 300 testers.
almost 80% of adults on the autistic spectrum unemployed, ULTRA Testing can
receive 150 applications in 72 hours.
Unfortunately, Sarah’s talents do not lie in this area, so she can’t
even compete for one of these jobs.
Anandan’s analysis is the same as mine: “Even in a best-case scenario
where you have a protective family and an inclusive education system, when kids
age out, there are no jobs, there is no opportunity, and if you’re not from an
affluent family, it’s really bad news.” YES!!
should my daughter and all of her friends do?
I’m can’t hold my breath until more inspired and compassionate
capitalists recognize the value of—let alone exclusively hire—people on the
autistic spectrum. I’m guessing Sarah
and others like her will have to settle for volunteer jobs and whatever economic
crumbs are tossed in her direction—unless somehow MY networking efforts connect
her with meaningful, paying work.
Speaking of networking…maybe you
know someone who knows someone looking for a very attractive lyrical soprano with perfect pitch,
who loves young kids. She’s a hard
worker, with a great memory, and upbeat attitude— who’s always on time. Need your
Labels: ABA, ACCES-VR, Asperger's, autism, Business Insider, capitalism, childhood disabilities, compassion, networking, neurodiversity, psychiatrists, Rajesh Anandan, software companies, special education, ULTRA Testing