difference a year can make! Remember when
I wrote about April being devoted to “autism awareness” last year? (See “April and Autism,” 4/4/14). I shared my conviction that a single month of
“awareness” was absurdly insufficient to resolve the complex issues of a
growing epidemic that currently affects 1 out of 68 babies. Year-round awareness—and more importantly,
ACTION—is essential if we are planning to help the current tsunami of young
adults on the spectrum find their place in the world.
“World Autism Awareness Day,” a
“Call to Action—Employment for Persons with Autism” was at the UNITED NATIONS,
and I of course, I attended. What could offer
better solace to a mother whose young adult daughter on the spectrum has been
unemployed for almost a year, after graduating cum laude from Pace University,(!)? (Of course, an actual job offer would be
better than solace.) In the meantime, it was still gratifying to hear the Secretary
General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, assure his audience that worldwide
employment of people on the autistic spectrum was a “high priority,” for both
him and his wife.
speaker and governor of Delaware, Jack Markell, remarked that only 30% of
people with disabilities are currently included in the workforce, and only 50%
of individuals on the spectrum have EVER held a job. The governor pointed out that
employing people with autism is a “win-win.” (Be still my beating heart!) We
must stop “taking care of people with autism, and embrace their diversity,” he remarked,
causing more hope to well up in my chest. Do you want to hear my favorite line
from the whole event: “Let’s not make
this someone else’s problem to solve.”
full three hours, I listened to 27 thought leaders from different areas of the
autism world talk about how and why individuals on the spectrum should be
hired. Business people from
Specialisterne, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and SAP all argued that training and
hiring people on the spectrum will actually benefit organizations, instead of
being an act of charity.
What are the benefits of hiring people on the spectrum?
1. Demonstrating leadership
in addressing the unacceptably high unemployment rate
among adults on the autistic spectrum (about 80%).
2. Improving the quality
of products by tapping the
special talents of people on the spectrum, which include superior pattern
recognition and attention to detail.
3. Achieving a better understanding
of the customer base
by employing workers
who more accurately reflect the general population.
4. An autism-friendly work environment generally creates
a better place for all
the conference, many great ideas and much good will were offered. These quotes
were high points for me:
“Come as you are. Do what you love.”
May Ellen Smith, Microsoft VP,Operations.
“Businesses need people capable of thinking
differently to get out of a rut.”
“It’s time to make autism sexy.”
Barua, Director, Action for Autism & National Center for Autism, India.
“My dream is to have 1 million jobs by 2025”
(for people on the spectrum). Dad and employer.
“I’m committed to employing people with
autism for three reasons: their honesty, passion and loyalty.” Tanja Rueckert,
Executive VP, SAP.
"People are disabled by perception and the
environment. Both of these can change.”
"If you've met one
person on the autistic spectrum, you've met one person. Each one’s unique.”
The most moving speeches of the day were given
by young adults with autism, describing their experiences in the work
force. The first—and saddest— graduate
student, Emily Brooks, told us how she’d been forced to publicly disclose her
autism at her workplace. Treated like a
child, she was denied any helpful accommodations as a result of her disclosure
and was repeatedly excluded from social functions. Both articulate and passionate, Ms. Brooks
implored the world to "end discrimination and stereotypes that restrict our job
fields, opportunities and career paths.” Amen!
second speaker, John Hartman, an accomplished artist, jewelry maker and
woodcarver, has also worked as a delivery man for a kosher deli for 10 years. Beaming
with pride, he told us how much he appreciated that job. Tears welled in his eyes as he spoke of the
love and support from his parents who had always believed in him. (And yes, my
eyes grew moist as well).
Richardson, the third speaker, is an assistant paralegal with Mayerson &
Associates, the first law firm in the country dedicated to people with
autism. Happily, he spoke of a
supportive work environment where there were “always people around to answer
his questions and help him out.” Even more happily, he added that he “just got a
raise after two years.”
this one day event, filled with hope and encouraging words help my daughter
Sarah to find a job any time soon? Maybe
if she was a computer geek, or if she wanted to work in a corporate office,
Sarah could send her resume to some of the employers who spoke. Unfortunately, my daughter’s talents and
interests lie elsewhere— working with young children, singing, and acting. No one from the entertainment or education
field was present at the UN to offer any opportunities to young adults with
autism. Once again, Sarah and I find ourselves pioneering new territory. Still, it does my heart good to hope that the
two mothers sitting next to me— both with fourteen year-olds on the spectrum— will reap the benefits of the ideas presented at the United Nations this year,, as more
and more people gradually open their minds and hearts to the next generation of
young adults on the spectrum.
Labels: autism, Ban Ki Moon, disabilities, employment, Hewlett Packard, Jack Markell, Microsoft, neurodiversity, Pace University, SAP, Specialisterne, United Nations, World Autism Awareness Day