One of the questions we routinely ask young children is "what do you want to be when you grown up?" indicating that in our society, employment, adulthood, and identity are bound together. Obtaining meaningful employment is the goal of years of education and training. A paid job is crucial for financial self-sufficiency, person maturity, and a connection to the wider community.
One of the most troubling issues in the autism community, therefore, is the extraordinarily high unemployment rate (see sidebar). This is especially disturbing given that people with ASD generally have the capacity to make excellent employees. Attention to detail, sustained concentration, loyalty, and adherence to routine are all qualities highly valued by many employers and common in individuals on the spectrum. Of particular concern to self-
advocates, family members, and policy makers is the under-employment of gifted young people with Asperger Syndrome, who have many highly valued "niche" skills. Considering public investment in special education services -- and New Hampshire's need for a skilled workforce -- these issues should concern us all.
Professionals in vocational counseling are still learning what kinds of job supports work best for individuals on the autism spectrum. Some individuals do well with a traditional job coach -- an aide who assists as the individual learns his or her responsibilities on the job, then fades as the individual become more independent. However, there is also some evidence that this model is not appropriate for the majority of individuals who experience ASD. Because social engagement is often the most challenging aspect of the workplace for these individuals, direct instruction in job-related social skills, employer education, and models that rely on a mentor or other natural supports are thought to have potential benefits.
Leaders in NH's developmental services system have declared that employment is the expectation for individuals who receive supports. This comes out of the recognition that paid employment confers many benefits, not only in terms of earned income, but also in the dignity and respect that comes with engaging in a socially valued activity.
New Hampshire Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders
Putting the Pieces Together in the Granite State
Copyright (c) 2012 NH Council on ASD, all right reserved
The NH Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders
21 S. Fruit Street
Concord, NH 03301