As we get older, one of the major decisions that we have to make is when to retire. For some people, their employer makes that decision for them with a “forced retirement.” Other people make the decision to retire once they have enough money saved up, all their bills are paid off, or they are just tired of working. Individuals with autism in the workforce are not usually thinking about retirement when they get older; all they want to do is work because that is their schedule. As a Supported Employment Manager, I keep asking myself “When do I tell someone that they need to retire from their job?” Another question to ask is “Does someone with autism even know what it means to retire from work?” I am currently facing this situation with one of the individuals on my caseload.
This gentleman is in his mid-70s and has been working in the same job for many years—since long before I started with the service provider. His job consists of working at a Library Collection Center and is physically demanding. There is a lot of walking, moving bins full of books around a loading dock, and organizing the books to go to the correct library. I had to work with this individual one day and the job was even physically demanding for me. So I can only imagine how this individual feels after working every day! Reports from the staff are coming in saying that the individual is taking longer bathroom breaks, taking longer lunch breaks, and needs to sit down more during work. This is slowing down the work for others and is backing everything up at the Collection Center.
When I asked the individual if he wanted to leave his current job, the individual said “No, I want to keep working at the Library.” In his Individual Planning meeting though, he did state that he wants to “Stay at the library, but have a job where [he is] sitting down most of the time.” The only problem with that is the library worksite does not have any jobs that allow our individuals to sit down at a desk all the time. After speaking with my director, the question now is do I force the individual to retire from this work because of his age? The job is a contract job, but the contract is coming to an end and the library has the right not to renew it with our company. Non-renewal would put six individuals out of a job, and I would have to try to find new placements for them.
I know it is not my place to tell someone when to retire or stop working, but in this extreme case I may have to tell one person to retire to save the jobs of six others. While the family also has input into the decision, I need to decide how to best proceed. Forced retirement happens to many people, but for someone with autism, post-retirement opportunities are limited. Do I have to tell this individual he has to retire to save the jobs of the others? I guess that is the big question for me to decide.