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April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month. Many of us are familiar with the word “autism” and would consider ourselves pretty aware of what it means. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that is characterized by a group of conditions that make difficult social interactions and communication. According to the CDC, an estimated 5,437,988 adults in the United States have ASD, making up 2.21% of the population.
The reality of autism awareness, however, is that many of us associate autism with children, not adults. Yet, autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. Sadly, it is then when we, as a society, seem to forget about them.
"Less than half of autistic adults are employed."
So, how can workplaces adjust and develop jobs suitable for autistic people? An innovative nonprofit, Autism Career Pathways, is tackling that problem by working with employers, families, and autistic individuals seeking employment.
First, ACP’s family consultation aspect of the program aims to explore the autistic identity of the candidate, helping the individual develop personal agency, self-management, and flexible decision-making, as well as to explore self-regulation methods. In short, with the help of the family, the program aims to empower and prepare the candidate to thrive at work.
Next, at the candidate level, ACP’s Career Assessment provides potential employers with a summary of the candidates’ interests, strengths, aptitudes, and areas of need. Hence, it offers potential recommendations for career roles, sensory communication, and learning accommodations each individual may need. Therefore, by obtaining information from the individual and familiar environment of the candidates, enterprises can prepare in advance to adjust to welcome employees with ASD, helping them thrive at work.
Finally, ACP works with employers to prepare them to welcome employees with ASD. Through their Better Community program, companies can earn a “Sensory Inclusive Certificate” by adapting their workplace to better include autistic employees. Some action these companies take are to create sensory-friendly spaces, set short-long term goals, adapt the training process for trainees with ASD, identify the level of support, accommodations, and progress for both mentors and autistic trainees, and create a bridge between the workplace and home.
"Through their Better Community program, companies can earn a “Sensory Inclusive Certificate” by adapting their workplace to better include autistic employees."
Some of the inspiring companies that have becoming Better Community Certified include The Book Worm, Books and Bakery, and Books Inc. Stores. If you have been searching for volunteer opportunities to help people with autism, apply to ámaxa today to partner with Autism Career Pathways and identify businesses in your community to undergo this certification and employ autistic adults!
Outside of the nonprofit sphere, SAS, an analytics software company, stands out in its intentional effort to include autistic individuals in its workplace. The SAS Autism Spectrum Internship Program “provides a unique interviewing process and training program” and aims to bridge the gap between academic and on-the-job learning to aid autistic individuals in obtaining meaningful employment. SAS believes that employers should not see autism as something that needs to adapt to the current conditions, but instead, keep in mind that each individual is unique, and hence, to provide potential employees with ASD with the necessary adaptations that allow them to be their authentic selves. This way, employees will feel confident that they are respected and valued for what they are and their unique contributions.
While most companies are still in early stages of including autistic individuals, SpectrumNews has pointed out that SAS is not completely alone in its efforts. Meristem is a school and community for people with autism in Fair Oaks, California. The 13 acre farm allows students to grow produce and take care of animals and includes dormitories and both indoor and outdoor classrooms. They also host the only bed-and-breakfast run entirely by students on the spectrum. Next, Daivergent is a New York-based startup that matches individuals’ skills to companies’ projects. The autistic people who sign up for Daivergent’s services take an assessment to identify their strengths and preferred type of work, such as testing software, entering data or designing video games. They also can hone their skills by taking video-based classes such as programming and marketing. Finally, the Florida-based Dan Marino Foundation offers a virtual-reality version of its interview software. To use the program, autistic people wear 3D goggles and ‘enter’ an office where they confront avatars that hit them with tough questions about their qualifications. Through the software, applicants can rehearse their technique as often as they like and even in the comfort of their own home.
If you have been searching for volunteer opportunities that help those with special needs and disabilities like autism, take action by applying to ámaxa today. Through our partnership with Autism Career Pathways, our students identify companies that could do better at employing and including autistic adults and advocate for those companies to become Better Community Certified (and hire autistic adults!). Let's take action to create a more inclusive world - together!