Job development can be a challenge for anyone, but even more of a challenge for someone with autism. While most people work to pay their bills, there are many other reasons for seeking employment. While we haven’t historically thought about autistic adults as employable, many people with autism want to work for the same reasons that you and I do—for money, friends, housing, and to give them something to do. One question I always remember from all the job interviews I have been on was “Why would I want to hire you over anyone else?” In my current position, I do not have to sell myself to the employer but I have to sell an employer on hiring someone with autism over someone who is not autistic.
Recently, I went to a conference on just this subject and found it very useful for someone in my position. It was called “Employment Supports for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder” and the speaker was Dan Baker, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Baker gave me a different way of looking at employment for someone with autism, and I learned a lot from his presentation. In the beginning, one of the things that he pointed out was that employment is not “all or nothing.” People can work part-time and have other day activities. The way many supported employment providers measure their success is by having all the individuals employed full-time. But success can also be measured by how many individuals with autism are employed at all, whether full-time or part-time. If someone with autism can work part-time and get paid for it, that is better then having no employment at all.
There are a lot of factors that go into job development, including the local job market and the employers’ needs. If the local job market is seeing a decline in employment, then it might be harder to find employment for anyone. Another factor is the match between the worker and the job. We do not want to employ someone with autism who does not like crowds in a place like a gym where there are a lot of people, just to have that person employed. Likewise, if the employer requests an employee able to roll 100 pieces of silverware during a shift, we should not employ someone that does not have the skills to reach that goal just to have them employed.
Baker pointed out something that I have actually shared with my co-workers: Job developers should not limit their thinking. Look at ALL types of business for employment opportunities. Just because a few stores of a certain company employ some of our individuals doesn’t mean all the individuals should be working for that company. We should look at every business around the community and see what they need. Even if a particular business doesn’t have current openings, they may know someone that does and can spread the word around that we have potential employees. One good job development strategy that anyone can do is just to start driving around looking for “Help Wanted” signs. Plant the seed somewhere. An employer may not think an autistic adult is the right person for a current opening, but they might be able to come up with some other way the individual may be able to help out their business. We need to start thinking outside the box if the goal is to have someone with autism employed.