NT & ASD, hand in hand

This is an historical post from an earlier blog, Adopted Son of the Autism Family, which I had before this current blog. It is re-posted without modification (other than this introductory sentence).

Whenever I think about vocational resources, I think that, while there is great work being done, there are crucial pieces missing, and it does not address the tremendous range of challenges in making sure that people with autism thrive in careers. At the severe end, we have to face that there are people who may not be able to work at all, or will struggle in sheltered vocation. We need to do more about the fact that people with autism are less likely to work than people with many other disabilities (although it should be remembered many people with autism also have another potentially disabling condition). We have a pretty solid infrastructure, at least here in Michigan, for them. We have some services, too, for people who can graduate high school or get basic vocational training for entry level jobs.

We dedicated our first FamilyRounds to this topic, and we had great lectures from people in different parts of Hope Network talk solutions for sheltered to entry-level competitive employment. You can watch that here:

These programs, along with others, are making a difference for part of the Spectrum. On a smaller scale, we’ve been reading about some cool ideas, like this idea to use auditory prompting to help people with autism stay on-task at work and the great work from Dr. Tony Gentry’s lab at Virginia Commonwealth.

But autism is well known for its Temple Grandins, and there are others who do very well with autism. Unfortunately, however, even among the tremendously bright and talented people with autism, we do not systematically create an environment where they can leverage their talents or get the opportunities they deserve (and contribute to society at the level of their talents – see the struggles of this young man… his SAT scores and mine were not so far apart!). A vocational strategy for autism doesn’t work if it’s group home to high school graduate. It has to extend all the way to our people with graduate educations and high-level skills. There need to be more projects like Chicagoland’s Aspiritech.

If you ask me, when we get what we want, we won’t just talk about begging or cajoling neurotypicals to hire people with autism. They’ll do it because they’re worth the investment. And we won’t just talk about neurotypicals hiring. Alone or in partnership with NTs who get them, we’ll talk about high functioning people with autism being the engines of economic growth. Their ideas will provide jobs for the NTs, not just the other way around.

And then, if I get really crazy, my dream is to be able to set up angel capital and a mechanism to deliver it to these people, NT and ASD alike, who would work together to generate these next generation, inclusive businesses, which thrive not in spite of the fact that they hire autistic people, but because of that very fact. Is that crazy? Some people claim it’s already happening. I don’t know that I believe that all or most of the superstar entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley really have autism (as Temple Grandin perhaps semi-facetiously claims). I do know, that in much of the rest of the country and the world, this does not happen yet, and I dream of changing that someday.

What are your ideas for creating a world where society can leverage the talents of people with autism and provide them a chance to shine and be celebrated for their work contributions?

5 thoughts on “NT & ASD, hand in hand

  1. For me, it's all about environment. We need to create places and spaces which enable individuals with autism not only to function better, but to thrive. Moreover, by doing this, we would all benefit, including the so-called neuro-typicals. I'm not so sure we can create a clear dividing line between people with autism and those who have NT 'status' and we need to be particularly careful of a 'them and us' mentality. With better environments, we might just find that those divisions are not so marked. A great post with some excellent aspirations!

  2. Great comment. You are so correct, every time we make the workplace more inclusive — for moms, for people with physical disabilities, for people with other differences — it turns out that some of the process changes and flexibility helps a whole host of people for whom the changes were not made. An inclusive workplace will be good for all of us. Also an excellent point that, especially for high functioning adults in the workplace, we may get a lot done by a mentality of inclusion, a supportive environment, and case-by-case process tweaks, and the line is fuzzy between a person with ASD and a “neurotypical” person — especially in many of the highly specialized fields those of us, ASD or no, go into, typical is sometimes a bit of a moving target.

    I'd like to use that as a future blog post title… “Neuro-not-so-typical”!

    Oh, and you're my very first blog comment, so thank you for that, as well! 🙂

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