(Featured Video Clip Credit Goes to Grandin, T. “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds”. TED2010. Published February 2010).
One of my favorite icons growing up has and always will be the great Dr. Temple Grandin. She is one of the well-known autism advocates and speakers, and she is also an animal scientist pioneer. Her famous quote, “The world needs all kinds of minds to work together”, has held true in the past, and it still holds true in the present, and the future. Why Did I Decide to Share This Clip? People with autism are and can be gifted and special in many capacities of life, especially in the workforce. What is the issue though? The majority of people with autism are either unemployed or underemployed. The distinction between the two is that unemployed means no employment, or no job. Underemployed, on the other hand, means that the individual may have a job, but their skills and qualifications are not quite aligned with the job they are performing. In other words, an individual who has outstanding skills and qualifications with great experience in the workforce may be working in a position where the essential skills, qualifications, and experience are few to none, and this can be quite frustrating to anyone, especially to adults on the autism spectrum. In fact, the number of adults on the autism spectrum that are unemployed or underemployed involve, “estimates ranging to as high as 90%” (Autism Speaks).
As someone who has seen these statistics before, I thought to myself, “How come the percentage of adults with autism being unemployed or underemployed in the United States is high?” One article states that, “workplace understanding and accommodations are a huge reason why Autistic people have a hard time finding and keeping employment” (Sparrow). Although you hear of great companies such as Microsoft and Dell (two computer and technological organizations) promoting inclusion and awareness of adults with autism in their employment programs, a lot of agencies and companies either do not have the resources to promote awareness and advocacy training about the autism spectrum, or, agencies and companies may not be certain of whether they can afford to accommodate adults on the autism spectrum, even though most accommodations involve minimal to no cost at all to implement. Also, speaking from work experience, in order to receive accommodations, the individual with a disability has to be “qualified” for the position. In other words, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enforces the principle that regardless of whether the individual with a disability needs an accommodation or not, the individual with a disability must perform the essential functions of the job. Often times, agencies, companies, and organizations will include “other duties as assigned” as one of the essential functions of the job. So what if the adult with autism took a position and cannot perform the essential functions of the job? Most agencies and companies would likely state the individual with a disability is no longer qualified to perform the job. Of course, if there was an alternate position that involved pay equivalent or less compared to the last position an individual held, and the individual is qualified (again, the key word is “qualified”) to perform the essential functions of that job, then reassignment would generally be granted. However, if that is not an option, then the individual with a disability, especially one with autism, would have the option to either consider resigning, or, allow the company to terminate the individual’s employment. However, in my opinion, that is how agencies, companies, and organizations end up losing tremendous assets (people with disabilities, including those with autism) with unique mindsets, skills, and talents who have made great contributions to society.
Dr. Temple Grandin in her speaking engagement gave some insight into what she called the, “Autistic Mind”, in that people with autism are like the specialists in cognition and innovation. People with autism are capable of producing the greatest of notions that could ultimately change lives for the better. As Grandin stated, you have your visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all of these categories of cognition lead to innovations in many industries that agencies, companies, and organizations should consider taking advantage of. In fact, one of my notions includes collaborating autism resource centers with aging service access points given the increase in the rate of ASD diagnosis as well as the increase in the number of older adults that are still living in order to promote more options, supports, and services within these communities to address individual goals and objectives in order for people with autism to live as independently as possible throughout life. Another notion I have is getting more job coaches, especially in central Massachusetts, to work with adults on the autism spectrum to help them to achieve their employment goals and objectives. I have heard of job coaches that specialize in working with people with autism in the Greater Boston area, but what about in central Massachusetts? People with autism benefit from mentors who can guide and support these individuals in the right direction, whether this be employment, or any other aspect of life. When agencies, companies, and organizations take the initiative to get to know people with autism, they utilize the principles of positive psychology in the sense that employers are learning about their strengths. What I also think agencies, companies, and organizations should also consider doing is when conducting interviews to hire people, especially those on the autism spectrum, give them an opportunity to sell, or in this case, demonstrate their work, not just answering questions verbally that may not even be relevant to the position an individual applies for (unless this is an essential job function for a position).
Over the years, we have seen adults with autism in real life and in multimedia who have been destined to achieve the greatest of tasks such as creating masterpieces of art, writing the greatest novels, playing the greatest music ever heard, and solving the world’s most complex problems, especially in areas associated with science and technology. We need to give adults with autism a chance to prove themselves in the workforce, rather than having to remain at home and collect disability checks, especially if they do not have to, and they are capable of working independently. While we can train the mind to be cognizant and knowledgeable, you will be more mindful by becoming social as an experiential learner in networking and connecting with people and communities.