Sep 30, 2011 0 Share

The Not-So-Empty Nest

Stork returning to nest where three other storks wait.

My husband and I have very recently become empty nesters. Both of our sons have moved out. But we’ve barely had time to do a happy dance before friends announce, “Oh, they’ll be back. Finding a job right out of college is so hard, they’ll move home.”

Gulp. I look around and our friends seem to be right. With increasing frequency, college grads are moving home for financial reasons. Last May, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University released a study entitled, “Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in Troubled Economy.” The study reports that of the 571 students surveyed, only 53% held full-time jobs. And these are neurotypical young adults, with four-year degrees.

What the survey also indicates is that many of these grads are underemployed. That is, they’re waiting tables, stocking shelves, and ringing cash registers. Those that did land a job in their chosen field saw median salaries drop by several thousand dollars from just a few years ago.

So the question becomes: If this is what neurotypical college grads are experiencing, what does this say about employability of young adults on the autism spectrum? Why would an employer want to hire someone with autism when he’s got a stack of resumes from neurotypical college grads on his desk and only one job to fill?

As a community, we can provide that employer with some answers. We know that each individual with autism has her own skills and talents to share, just like anyone else. Some folks with autism even have highly developed skills, thanks to the specifics of how their brains function. But we also need to address the very real issues that keep adults on the spectrum from finding and maintaining work. Some adults with autism will find success in competitive employment, but we need to provide them with real-world training to do so.  Others will never manage a competitive employment situation. Jobs will need to be created that are specifically suited to their talents and help them manage their challenges.

With one in 110 children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, we are a large community of families and friends. We are also a large community of consumers. We need to start harnessing our power as consumers to encourage employers to develop opportunities for adults with autism. We need to shop at stores that hire adults with autism, even if it means a longer drive or a few pennies more in price. Walgreens, for example, has been at the forefront of hiring adults with autism. We need to applaud these employers in our hometowns, and in our Chambers of Commerce. We need to get the word out when we find a business that makes an effort to develop a working model of employment for adults with ASD. Government incentives to hire people with disabilities exist, but are limited. We need to help create community and revenue incentives.

Some adults with autism will find that even customized jobs can’t be managed. Health issues (including mental health), transportation issues, or sensory issues may be too overwhelming. So we need to get creative about entrepreneurship opportunities. The good news is that we live in an age in which it is possible to work from home and reach people across the globe. As communities, we need to think about how to develop opportunities specifically designed to help adults with autism make use of and maximizes their talents, without dwelling on their challenges.

If you know of an employer, big or small, that has demonstrated a commitment to hiring and working with adults with autism, give them a shout-out on our Facebook page. Then let’s drive consumer dollars to the doorsteps of those companies willing to help adults on the spectrum feather their own nests.