Thursday, February 17, 2011

Will ASTEP be a misstep?

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.


Anonymous said...

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.

Don't forget that Meg Evans doesn't have an autism or even an Asperger's diagnosis and spent many years astroturfing as another individual. Not only doesn't she have a diagnosis, but she is connected personally in no way with autism at all as neither of her children has an ASD either.

SM69 said...

I think the web site for ASTEP looks good and gives very valuable links. What they offer might not be perfect (i would not know and only time will tell), but it is good to see more and more of these developments happening in the US and in the UK.

In Edinburgh, the employment of people with is supported by an agency called into work. They assist placements of people with AS, initially as volunteers, by speaking to the potential employer and monitoring how well the person does. They are of course knowledgeable of how AS can interfere with work. However, there is no programme that can assist in gaining the skills/ or set ups a person could benefit from.

I would think it would be very possible to build in, on a case by case basis, a "learning plan" that could assist with some of the issues the person may be having. For example, a person who tend to speak too much, interfering with other's work could be helped to recognize that it would be better to keep the talking to brake times only. Another example is when the person is starting to engage in non-productive conflictual dialogue, such person could be assisted to recognize that that it's one of those conflict times again, and it would be better to focus on x, y instead and perhaps steam off elsewhere for a little while. Equally coworkers could be briefed on the best possible answer, to avoid poring fuel on a fire. There are many ways to accommodates these differences, but these accommodations require a motivation to help the person in the first place and some knowledge of the condition.

A greater tolerance towards a disability can be achieved with knowledge, and exposure of positive experiences of inclusion. Transparency is needed too, at least for those individual's who's autism will truly interfere with their ability to work and functioning within the community.

Those motivated to hire some people on the spectrum might for now primarily be those who have a personal experience of the condition. There is for example a very successful Danish company that has recently set up a franchise in Glasgow, called Specialisterne Scotland.

"The Danish firm now employs more than 50 people and has a turnover of around £1.5 million. It uses the characteristics and skills which some people with autism excel in i.e. insight, precision and consistency, to create market-rate jobs and provide IT services to businesses around the world."

The trainees will undergo a four month training programme which will include using LEGO Mindstorm and robotics to identify and match their skills to work tasks. To ensure that trainees can achieve their full potential, a working environment will be created with a high degree of planning, predictability, systemisation and minimal stress.

Gerry Higgins, Chief Executive of Govan-based CEiS, said: "We know from the experience in Denmark, that Specialisterne Scotland has the potential to change lives for the better by providing mainstream employment at the market rate for people with autism, while transforming recruitment attitudes and business practices.

From your experience of employment Jonathan, what would have been the most helpful support you could have benefited from? (other than a cure).

jonathan said...

There is nothing that could have been done to support me that would have made it easier

A better future for all said...

"The jobs that I applied for, for the most part did not want to hire me and make an agreement with ADEPT."

I have a question about what you said. Dad any of these places ever give any reasons that they did not want to hire you and make an agreement with ADEPT? If yes, will you please state them right here if you do not mind?

jonathan said...

Cube: The place that hired me where i worked more than two years when I was getting help from ADEPT just stated that they preferred to work with me themself, which they did for more than two years.

A better future for all said...

Jonathan, maybe this is due to my own poor communication skills but I'm not sure if you understood what I was asking or not.

If you do not mind I would like to make sure I am understanding the facts of this. You joined Adept to try to obtain their services am I correct?

These jobs that you tried to apply for would not make a deal with you or adept except one in which you lasted a month and another in which you lasted for 2 years. Is this correct?

How did the adept program work? Did they apply on your behalf or did you have to apply yourself? What exactly was adept's role with you? What services was Adept supposed to provide to you exactly?

With respect to the employers who completely rejected you and adept did they give you or Adept a set of reasons why they would not hire you? If yes, what were they?

With respect to the employer who only kept you for 2 months did they state a reason to either adept or you as to why you were let go? Did you have any issues with any of your co-workers or your bosses that you know of?

With respect to the employer that kept you for 2 years, why did they let you go after two years? Did they state a reason to you or Adept?

Did you have major problems with any of your supervisors or co-workers? Did anyone ever make a formal complaint against you at either job?

Did you ever receive any performance reviews and if yes, what did say at either job?

jonathan said...

it was more than twenty years ago. As I recall, under ADEPT's program, you disclosed to the prospective employer that you had a disability. If hired, adept would pay them about half of your salary for the first month. That's all they provided.

I had to look for the jobs myself. I was fired from the first job after a month for not doing the reports fast enough (at least that's the reason they gave me). I found another job after that and they declined to make an agreement with ADEPT but kept me on for more than two years. They were being investigated for helping attorneys in fradulent workers' comp claims and ran out of work and fired me first as the most expendable employee. They went out of business not long after the principals of the company were indicted. Hope that answers your questions. No job reviews at either place.