A Job Worth Doing
One of my favorite aspects of being a writer for Autism After 16 is the opportunity to hear real, inspiring stories firsthand. (When I read a book or watch a “TED” talk about autism, I know I might find myself interviewing the writer or speaker a few weeks later. How cool is it that?!) I love speaking with individuals, family members, and business owners who do valuable work for our community. When they share their stories with me, I always come away strengthened, knowing that I'm not alone in my hopes and dreams for my brother. And I'm especially encouraged by accounts of sustainable, scalable models of adult autism employment.
Employment is a problematic area, but it is also imbued with possibility. On one hand, a majority of adults with autism are either unemployed or under-employed. On the other hand, progress is being made. Adult autism employment opportunities are sprouting up everywhere, and I feel a sense of new energy and potential surrounding the employment sector. And after several years of listening to stories and interviewing business owners, I'm realizing that there are some very specific supports that an adult with autism needs in order to overcome the odds of finding employment. Having an unusual or exceptional skill helps facilitate success, but it isn't the only factor, not by a long shot. What I see, again and again, is that a strong community can make all the difference. When others are committed to coming alongside an individual in everything from training to transportation, big changes can happen.
And seeing others stand in the gap—that is, the space between where we are with autism employment and where we want to be—has challenged me to do the same. I've begun thinking about how siblings like me can help support autism employment for our brothers and sisters. Even at a distance, I believe we have a great deal to offer. Of course, you'll want to connect with your sibling and family members throughout the process, but there's plenty to do on your own:
First, let yourself dream. Family members do need to be practical, but you are also uniquely equipped to dream on behalf of your sibling. You're a peer, with firsthand knowledge of your sibling's abilities. Also, you may be a bit less protective than your parents, more willing to see your sibling take risks. Ask yourself: How does my sibling most like to spend her time? If given free reign, what does he do? List enjoyable pastimes, activities, and skill sets. This is brainstorming time, time to let your imagination roam free.
Next, make a list of what you think your sibling may need from a job or workplace now. What may be a necessity in the future—such as receiving a paycheck to help defer living expenses—may be optional for your sibling at this stage. Ask: Do they need a quiet space? A flexible schedule? Transportation? Consistent income? A sense of ownership in their work product? Consider what's optional, and what's truly essential.
After that, do research. Read about (or better yet, visit) successful programs or businesses. Explore coffee shops, bookstores, and tech startups; learn about why they are doing well. (The AA16 employment section is a great place to start.) Also research your sibling's particular geographic area; you can explore available programs or entrepreneurial opportunities. Do your homework, and try to spot places in which your sibling's contribution would be welcomed. As you do so, remember: Your sibling isn't you. Their tastes and preferences may be radically different from your own. Maybe you can't stand the thought of working in retail—or at a think tank!—but such an environment might be a perfect fit for your brother or sister. They might love and thrive in a field where you'd fail, and vice versa.
Finally, consider ways in which you might offer practical support, even at a distance. Could you co-create a business plan with your sibling, design a website, or help practice for an interview? You and I have the power to make a significant contribution to our sibling's employment. Let's see what we can do.