Help Wanted: Employers With Open Hearts And Minds

  My son needs a job and so do I.

My son is 15 years old, has autism, and is at an age when his educators talk of “life-skills” and “future employment.” It could take someone with a learning disability five or six years to learn an employable skill, so starting now isn’t a bad idea.

April is Autism Awareness Month and one key area that needs more public awareness is finding jobs for adults and young adults on the autistic spectrum.

Special Needs Jobs

According to a recent article in Forbes, the unemployment rate for adults on the spectrum exceeds 90%. Yet studies also show that people with disabilities are good employees. They’re loyal, focused, and have a low-rate of absenteeism. Teachers today are taught to expect one or more ASD students per class, and that ratio should be shared by employers post graduation. People with autism need jobs. If you’re not working alongside an autistic person yet, you soon will be.

The rate of autism in the United States is 1-in-68. The rate in New Jersey is 1-in-41. Jersey boys have a nearly 1-in-10 chance of being diagnosed with autism. Approximately 2.5 percent of the New Jersey population will grow up with an autism diagnosis. Where will these people work once they’ve finished school?

Homegrown Answers

Employers need to open their hearts and minds to the idea of hiring individuals with special needs. Some big companies—like Walgreens, 3M, AT&T, and Microsoft—are activity trying to include individuals with autism into the workforce. But for the most part, finding jobs for individuals with autism is at best a grassroots effort. Oftentimes families end up starting their own business that showcase their child’s strengths or interests.

In Parkland, Florida, the father-and-son team of John and Tom D’Eri have hired 35 employees with autism to staff The Rising Tide Car Wash. Tom D’Eri believes autism gives his staff a competitive advantage, adding, “They have a great eye for detail.” Dennis Mashue of Detroit launched a hat business with his entrepreneurial autistic son, Tuck. Thorkil Sonne, who is the father of an autistic son, founded Specialisterne, a company that recruits people with autism to work in data entry, software programming, and testing projects.

A North Carolina group called Extraordinary Ventures is trying to address the problem of employment opportunities for special needs individuals by coming up with innovative new business models. The EV team is having success designing jobs and workplaces to fit the skills and needs of the people they’re employing.

A great graphic from “Jenna’s Movement.”

wish I had some timeless skill I could pass down to my son—like carpentry or small engine repair—but I don’t. All I know how to do is string words together, but words aren’t my son’s thing. I’m not sure what vocation Errera & Son will take up, but we’ll find it. We have to. As EV’s managing director notes, “A job in our society is more than just a way to make a living; it defines an individual’s identity.”

Everybody wants a job and everybody needs a purpose.