Apr 24, 2013 0 Share

What Do You Do for a Living?

Figures on newspaper help wanted page.

It is always an interesting conversation when someone asks me the question, “What do you do for a living?” My response is always: “I work at an Autism Center as a Supported Employment Manager,” and the looks I get are priceless. I usually have to explain that I help adults with autism find jobs in the community. Then I usually get one of two responses. Sometimes I hear, “That’s great, you have a big heart and a lot of patience,” or I hear “I know an autistic boy who works outside the grocery store I go to.” I usually laugh at either answer but the second answer makes me laugh a little more. When most people hear of someone with autism working they normally think of the guy at the grocery store collecting carts, or the greeter at Wal-Mart. The truth of the matter is that adults with autism are employed everywhere we go, just may not see them as much. 

When I first started working at the Autism Center, I thought it would be a good idea to ask the individuals in my caseload, “What do you do for a living?” Looking into their eyes as they would tell me their jobs, I could see they were very happy with what they were doing. Some of the jobs would be considered a starting point for me or someone else, but for someone with autism this was their career and part of their routine. But just like me, they sometimes get burnt out and want to change jobs. 

An example of this happened about a year ago. I had an individual who had been working at the same job for about 15 years in the same position. This individual was working at a library collection center that would sort books, and movies to be shipped out to libraries around the county. For some reason last year, this individual did not want to work at this library collection center anymore. I would find notes on my desk saying “I quit, I don’t want to work at the library anymore.” The worst part was I had to call this individual’s parents and tell them he wanted to quit and we could not force him to work there anymore. One of the parents said, “Do whatever you can to keep him there employed.” However, I am not going to force anyone to do a job they are not happy with. So, I pulled the adult from the job until I could find something else for him. 

A few months later, after pushing this individual into job tries to learn what skills he had, I found him a new job. It was working at a Ruby Tuesday in the area, rolling silverware before the lunch shift and cleaning the tables before people came in. Now I had to make another phone call to his parents telling them this time that I found him a different job. I will never forget the words the mother said to me. “The reason I pushed for him to stay at the library was because I did not think he could work anywhere else, but I am glad you have proven me wrong and I did not think it would happen.”  

That is the reason I do what I do for living. I don’t do it for the money, because working in the mental health field is not a six-figure job. The reward is being able to tell a mother or any parent that I found a job for their adult child when the parent thought their son or daughter would never be employed. That is what I do for living and that is what I will continue to do for living.