Posts Tagged ‘Autism Awareness Month’

So that lovely and occasionally terrifying thing known as the Internet has informed me that April is Autism Awareness Month, and as someone who is on the spectrum, I felt I should contribute something.

The only question is, what should I contribute? I haven’t had any experiences like when I was asked to give advice on how to help someone’s autistic relative; I haven’t been prompted to record a video or anything like the one below, detailing a specific issue involving disability (by the way, that video recently passed the one-year anniversary of when it was uploaded, and also passed five-hundred views soon afterwards. I find that pretty cool); I haven’t had any revelations about my relationship with my autism; and no one’s asked me point-blank if I’m autistic recently. What’s there to talk about? What can I say that not only needs to be said, but I feel strongly speaking my mind about?

 

Well, I guess one subject I can broach is how autism affects adults, especially in terms of job searching and job security.

A lot of people associate autism with children. When they associate it with adults, I think the popular image is low-functioning adults who are being taken care of by their parents or at facilities. And while there is a segment of the adult autistic population that do need that sort of care, the popular image ignores the segment of the population who don’t require full-time care from facilities or parents, those who can and seek to live independently. And they face their own unique challenges and issues.

Now, I”m just going off my own experience and the experiences of others who have or are related to people with ASD, but the fact that we’re either experiencing or hearing about this says something.

I’ve mentioned before how, between October 2015 and about March or April 2016, I was on the worst job search I’ve ever experienced. Every day I would send out resumes and applications, only to either not hear anything back or to be passed over after being interviewed. One reason this may have happened is because I was open to my potential employers about the fact that I have ASD, and that it sometimes made social situations awkward. I have no proof, but it’s possible that knowing my diagnosis may have scared them off. People have this association with people with disabilities in general that we’re unable to do anything. And even if we’re skilled at something (sciences, writing, mathematics, painting, music, whatever), our needs are too much for them to handle as employers.

The reality, I assure you, is much different. At work, part of my job is being a disability advocate, and I can attest that people with disabilities not only do things, they do them very well. Not only that, but employers who treat disabled employees well find that not only are these employees hard-working and loyal, but several times less likely to turn over than the general population. Not only that, but accommodations for their disability usually aren’t burdensome: a quiet or obstacle-free workspace, or flexible schedules, or leave for medical appointments. And when it does cost money for accommodations, it’s usually not expensive. Seriously, I help handle accommodations at work. I rarely see the cost get anywhere near five-hundred dollars.  My own accommodations cost the organization nothing: I just listen to my iPod or audio books while I work (I pay for any new music or audio books) and I have a chair designed to ease my back pain (we already had the chair to begin with, so it didn’t cost any money to give it to me).

But still, a lot of employers are wary of employing the disabled, especially folks with ASD. They have this idea of a Rain Man-type character, someone who may excel at one very special skill, but needs all sorts of help in every other area of life and can’t do anything but certain tasks. For many autistic adults, this simply isn’t the case. Each of us may present our diagnosis differently, but it doesn’t affect each and every one of us that badly, and we are suited for a variety of tasks.

I’m lucky that I was able to get a job in an office where everyone is kind and gets that I’m not always the savviest person socially, in an organization that emphasizes disability hiring, accommodation, and inclusion. But not many people like me are that lucky. They have trouble finding jobs because employers see their disabilities as a huge barrier. I’ve heard from friends who’ve had this experience, as well as from others. And not just with jobs: I’ve heard from people who have told me that they or their relatives had had trouble finding services that help them cope with their ASD once they reach adulthood or when they’re diagnosed in adulthood. There’s plenty of help for minors, but for adults, it can be a challenge.

So this Autism Awareness Month, I’m writing a post urging people not only to support autism awareness, research, and therapy, but also to rethink how we approach adults with autism (and disabilities in general). The majority of us aren’t helpless individuals. We’re hardworking and want to be part of society. You just have to give us the opportunity, whether that be funding for programs that offer counseling, education, and job training to autistic adults, or actually giving a job to someone with autism. Quite possibly, you’ll be amazed at what you receive in return.

Thank you for reading, and have a good month of April.

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