As a person with high functioning autism who has not worked in over four years and has been fired from approximately 20 jobs or more, as well as having significant problems on others where I was forced to resign, I was interested in hearing from my friend, Stephen Shore, about a newly formed organization whose purpose is to help persons on the spectrum find and keep employment. Steve serves on the advisory board of this organization.
This organization has the cute acronym ASTEP, which stands for Asperger's syndrome training and employment partnership.
As I suspect I am not the only person with autism and/or Asperger's syndrome who has had problems in the workplace, this interests me greatly. This is light of the fact that the Obama administration has appointed to various government policy posts a never employed 22 year old who states that a solution for unemployment among persons with autism is to eliminate social pleasantry as a criteria for hiring and evaluating people's job performance. Also it is rumored that a person high up in his advocacy organization is the retired neurodiversity blogger "the autistic bitch from hell" who has stated that those of us with ASD's on/or applying to be on the dole are nothing but lazy loafers who don't want to take responsibility for our lives so we spend time interfering with the noble individuals of this advocacy organization who are trying to do something about job discrimination against autistic persons.
We also have autism speaks who promotes an autism in the workplace dog and pony show yet has never, to the best of my knowledge, hired an autistic person to work for their organization even as a minimum wage janitor or file clerk with a job coach or contributed to the employment of an autistic individual in any way. The exception to this could be their giving money to that Robin Hood-in-reverse, John Elder Robison, to help pay for the costs of his son's film making endeavors, in exchange for lending his celebrity to their organization by serving on an advisory board. In Gadfly's opinion, this is not much different than Warren Buffett serving as an advisor on an organization designed to help the homeless then giving him money.
So, on superficial analysis, it would seem that ASTEP might be a noble cause and this newly found organization might be something that could do some good, if they were able to help autistic people find and keep work. However, it would seem unclear to me on exactly how this is done. The photo on their homepage shows persons working in what would appear to be prestigious, highly skilled work such as in a science laboratory or computer job. I have to wonder, how many persons on the spectrum are capable of receiving the training for doing this job and how realistic is this. I am also curious where these photos were obtained and if any of these people at all have Asperger's or autism.
One intriguing item is apparently there are government subsidies for hiring people with disabilities. One of the things that I attempted when I was struggling to make a living was going to this organization ADEPT (I don't remember what the acronym stood for) which I don't think is any longer in existence. The jobs that I applied for, for the most part did not want to hire me and make an agreement with ADEPT. The one job I got that made an agreement with ADEPT, transcribing some radiology reports, fired me after a month. After this I got another job where they declined to make an agreement with ADEPT and I held this job for more than two years.
They also apparently talk about disclosure of the diagnosis as part of the basis of their plan for helping those on the spectrum and giving counseling to their clients and prospective employers about accommodations that could be made. What exactly these accommodations are and how they could help persons on the spectrum be employed, I don't know. I have not read everything on the site, yet, so perhaps, there is something I missed. I just know that part of ADEPTs strategy was this sort of thing, disclosure and subsidizing the persons did not work out for me.
I don't believe that disclosure is tremendously helpful based on my own personal experiences. It would likely result in someone not being hired, or if they were hired, if the employer did not like them for some reason, or they had bad behavior on the job or problems with work performance, it would not dissuade them from firing that person.
Another red flag is their citing various offices of state departments of rehabilitation around the country and apparently part of their strategy is to have an alliance with these government organizations. I would only recommend the services of the California state department of rehabilitation to my most mortal enemies and that might be cruel even to these people.
About two years ago I wrote a blog post about my bad experiences with California's state rehab department so the interested reader can link to this and read about them to see what is wrong with this approach.
Another reason to be wary of ASTEP is the citing of Temple Grandin's books and work, where she implies that most autistic people have special talents and gives the solution of having mentors and claiming that obsessions can be channeled into work careers, yet neglecting to give any specific examples of these besides herself. The sad story of Darius McCollum is certainly one example where this approach would not be workable. Grandin also gives examples of good jobs and bad jobs for autistic people. Medical transcription, which I did on and off in various places was given as a bad job for persons with autism. Though I was not able to succeed in this field well enough to continue working in it, there is the old cliche' about the glass being half full rather than half empty. I was more successful and made more money doing this than anything else and there were a variety of transcription jobs I was able to keep for reasonably lengthy periods of time, one of them more than nine years.
Perhaps the biggest eyeroll of all is the executive director of the program, one Michael John Carley. Carley, who is married and has two children and received an AS diagnosis in his mid 30s after his son was diagnosed has claimed that there is a universal feeling among autistics that "we" don't want to be cured. As most readers of this blog can guess, I take umbrage to this.
Carley, as reported by MJ, author of the autism jabberwocky blog has stated that proposed changes in the DSM are "hard for him to swallow because he does not want to be associated with head bangers and diaper wearers". Apparently, Carley would prefer fancying himself an Einstein or a Gates and claiming these two had Asperger's than a person who has had life impairments due to their ASD. One has to wonder how much sympathy Carley would have for those of us who have employment problems. Would he find being lumped in with us, 'hard to swallow'? This would reduce his credibility in my eyes as a director of an organization that seeks to help ASD persons with employment issues.
Interestingly, Carley at one time made a living as a diplomat for the United Nations. This seems rather ironic in light of the rather undiplomatic statements that he has made about persons with autism who do not function in the world as well as he does. I wonder whether the reason Carley is now doing work in autism related fields and is no longer a diplomat is because he worked in a profession he was so ill-suited for and had to leave it. If he can't even pick a job he has a good aptitude for,how can he help other persons?
I realize that this is a very new organization and perhaps I should heed the old saw, "don't judge a book by its cover" and maybe give ASTEP a chance and see if they are actually successful in helping those of us on the spectrum find and keep work.
Though I will withhold judgement until all the facts are in, I still can't help thinking that ASTEP might be a misstep.