Author: Lynn Vigo, MSW, LICSW

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Employment

employment-signHighlights from Beautiful Minds Wasted, The Economist

Thanks to my colleague, Jennifer Mannheim, ARNP , for passing along a recent article on autism and employment (The Economist, April 16, 2016 Beautiful Minds Wasted). As more and more children with autism become young adults, it offers a look at what happens after educational services end.

This article provides a global glimpse at the state of employment for those on the spectrum and is chock-full of sobering statistics:

  • In 1970, 1 in 14, 000 children in the US were diagnosed with an ASD.
  • In 2016, 1 in 68 children in the US were diagnosed with an ASD.
  • In France, 90% of children with an ASD attend primary school but only 1% makes it to high school.
  • In the US, less than 50% of students with an ASD graduate from high school.
  • In the UK, 60% of teachers said they were unprepared to teach children with an ASD.
  • In the UK, 12% of adults with HFA are employed and 2% of adults with “more challenging forms of ASD”.
  • Globally, per the UN, 80% of adults on the spectrum are unemployed.
  • In the US, 19% of adults with an ASD in their early 20s live independently away from their parents.
  • 1 in 4 adults with an ASD report feeling isolated (have not seen friends or received a social invitation in the past year).

The article identified some of the employment challenges for those on the spectrum, including difficulty with the social aspects of the interview process, the often over stimulating work environment and adapting to changes in schedules and routines. On the other hand, strengths of some on the spectrum include intense focus and an eye for detail, enjoyment of repetitive tasks, dependability in following rules and routines.

Also mentioned were employers throughout the world who have made efforts to assist employees with an ASD to be successful including Specialisterne, A Danish firm that offers training and help finding jobs, Kaien in Japan, AQA in Israel, Passwerk in Belgium, and Walgreens in the US.

The Economist cites lifetime cost of unemployment associated with an ASD (lifelong care, lack of output by such individuals and un/under employment by families who care for those who do not work) is cited as between 1.4-2.4 million dollars.

Depressing? Yes. Surprising? No. The world is still not capably or comprehensively providing services and supports for children with an ASD and their families. It is only beginning to see the massive wave of children now coming of age into adulthood. Our kids are not ready for the real world and the real world is not ready for them.

 

Mindful Monday- Choose To Be Happy

Scientists tell us that our genes play a big role in our temperament – whether we are naturally positive or negative, high-strung or low-key. Does that mean, however, that we have no control over how we feel or on our outlook on life?

We all know people who seem to enjoy being miserable. They find fault with everything and everyone, feel victimized by life, and seem to not experience any happiness. We also know people who seem to bounce from one happy moment to the next, always looking at the bright side, and spreading joy wherever they go. Most of us are somewhere in the middle as we navigate life’s ups and downs. Is it possible to shift the scale to more happiness and less dissatisfaction? YES! As with anything, it takes practice. What could be easier though, then practicing being happy?

Practice Being Happy

  1. Hang out with happy people. We may not get to choose our family but we can choose our friends and acquaintances. If a relationship is not mutual, if it is dragging you down, consider pruning your friendship tree.
  2. Show thanks. This is one of the easiest things to do and the return on investment is incalculable. 
  3. Look for purpose. Ask yourself, “what is my purpose in life?” and you’re likely to find reason to be happy. Perhaps it is to be the best mom you can be or to serve others or make lives easier/better in some small but significant ways. 
  4. Look for meaning. When things go wrong, as they do, find meaning. Don’t dig too deep! It may be as simple as a lesson learned or another step in resilience. 
  5. Live in the moment. Make an effort to let go of yesterday and not worry about tomorrow. All that you have any control over is what is right in front of you today. 

Mindful Monday – More Being and Less Doing For The Holidays

If you found your Thanksgiving holiday to be more doing (shopping, cleaning, prepping, cooking, serving, hosting, cleaning again) than being (listening, breathing, walking, seeing things and people in a simpler light, enjoying special moments), there’s still hope for you!

The next round of holidays is just around the corner and now is the time to set an intention to s-l-o-w down! Many people have come to realize how stressful this time of year can be and with a child with ASD, even more so.  While some things are not within your control to change, some are. Here are some tips:

  • Think about your traditions and appraise them in the here and now. For example, if you have always sent out holiday cards, ask if this is still meaningful for you and the recipients. Can you update your list of recipients and shorten it? If this year is particularly stressful, consider not sending cards this year and revisiting the issue next year. If you are nagged by “I should” and “I always”, ask yourself what the worst- case scenario would be if you skip this year. Will anyone disown you?
  • Decide more is not better. Too often we spend extra time and money on “filler” such as what goes into a child’s stocking. I realized one year that I spent almost as much on the little stuff as I did on the “main present”. My answer was to stuff the lower half of the stocking with new socks and then add a few items on top. If you have many people on your list for gifts, just give one. Radical idea for the kids, I know! But as kids get older, the things they want are smaller and more expensive. There’s no need to buy more just so they have a lot to open. Last year I bombed on a number of items I bought for my family – things they didn’t really need or want. I vowed to recall this next time. It was one gift that made their day.
  • Call to mind the small yet meaningful aspects of the holiday. We tend to get caught up in the gift-giving part and breeze past the moments that truly count. It could be the smell of fresh pine or a song that brings back childhood memories. This year decide to pay attention, to notice the small things. Make a mental note of them.
  • Set your own pace. Television and the internet will convince you that time and gifts are running out and that you better hurry or else you’ll miss out. Turn it off. Tune it out. Recognize that the purpose of this is to sell something. Slow down and think through your list.
  • Refrain from comparing. Expectations tend to be our downfall when it comes to the holidays. We compare ourselves with our own parents, other families, fictitious families on TV, Face Book families (they seem fictitious sometimes too!) and storybook families of holidays long, long ago. Instead of comparisons, think of possibilities. Leave some room for being adaptable to whatever may come your way.

Wishing you love, peace, and quiet this holiday season!

 

 

 

 

In His Own Words: An Interview With Trevor

bannerWe’d like to introduce you to our guest for today’s blog. Trevor is 23 years old and is the Media Director of his family’s business, Consetta Group.

 

 

Lynn: At what age were you diagnosed with ASD?

Trevor: At age 5

Lynn: Do you recall what and when your parents told you about your diagnosis?

Trevor: It was more I heard here and there growing up from my parents that I had autism, except for years I didn’t even know what it was. So the fact that I knew I was autistic had no effect on my childhood.

Lynn: Did you participate in any therapies such as ABA or speech or occupational therapy?

Trevor: Yes, I had speech therapy when I was little, and from Kindergarten through sixth grade I had extra accommodations through my school to help with social skills. I had these same types of accommodations in middle school and high school to focus on my academics, and in college I had occasional accommodations to help me in test taking.

Lynn: Did you participate in special education in school? Were you in an inclusion classroom or a contained classroom?

Trevor: The special accommodations I mentioned above during grade school were set in a separate room from my usual classroom, and was with one or two other students on the spectrum. I had none of this in middle school, but in high school I was placed in a special class to help students struggling with their grades.

Lynn: What has been the most challenging part of ASD for you?

Trevor: Making friends. It was never a problem for me in middle school or grade school, as I never had much of a desire to make friends. It was in high school and on to today where it became a desire and struggle for me.

Lynn: What do you think helped you the most with this challenge?

Trevor: It was mostly a matter of trial and error. The more people I met with, the better idea of who I wanted to be friends with. Eventually the right friends came to me, and they helped me to learn what being a good friend is about.

Lynn: Do you know young adults who have severe ASD?

Trevor: I know of several young adults with severe ASD, but none well enough to give a knowledgeable description about.

Lynn: If so, how do you think “your ASD” and “their ASD” are similar or different?

Trevor: Everyone’s story is different. I have never met two cases of ASD or Down syndrome that were exactly the same. One may be nonverbal, one may be more independent. It’s important that we not categorize between levels of functionality, because they are limitless.

Lynn: Do you think you have an understanding of how someone with severe ASD experiences/processes the world?

Trevor: I honestly do not. In order to know how someone experiences the world, you have to step in their brain for a day.

Lynn: What do you think about the idea that ASD isn’t a disability but a difference in thinking or personality?

Trevor: I think that it is unacceptable how few people grasp this concept. While people with disabilities may not be able to do commonly acceptable tasks such as writing, talking, or living independently, they still have so many other abilities involving the mind that others would only dream of having.

Lynn: When you think back on growing up, what do you think the adults in your life got right?

Trevor: That we need to respect and obey our authorities, for they are our role models.

Lynn: When you think back on growing up, what do you think the adults in your life got wrong?

Trevor: Their priorities in what I need to learn in school were all wrong. They try to say, “If you don’t do well in this subject you’ll never get a job!” But from what I now can tell, there is a profession for everyone big or small, even if it’s just putting labels on jars like I heard one person with ASD does for a living.

Lynn: There’s so much about ASD that we still don’t understand. What is your hope when it comes to current efforts at understanding what causes it and how we help those affected by it?

Trevor: We should not be worried about what causes it, because that immediately sets us into a mindset that autism is a curable disease. Our focus must be on how we can help children with ASD to know what their strengths are, and how to use them. I also would like to see the educational system accommodate itself to fit in with what the student is genuinely great at doing.

 

Mindful Monday- Holiday Tips

 

Halloween is just a soggy sweet memory and you know what that means, don’t you? It means that we’ll soon be hearing holiday music in the aisles as we sip our gingerbread lattes.

It’s so easy this time of year to get swept up in the mad rush to THE HOLIDAYS.  Or if you’re like me, you get a little irritated and decide to try and ignore it all. What’s the big hurry?

Now is a good time to set some mindful intentions about what’s to come. Here are some tips for mindful holidays. Stay tuned for more the next couple months.

  • Set an intention (or two) for the upcoming holidays. It might sound something like this: “This year I’m going to focus on the meaning of the holiday instead of the marketing of it.”  Or “This year I’ll practice self-compassion when things don’t go as planned.” Or “Knowing there will likely be both stress and joy, I’ll expect some of each and be ok with it.” 
  • Make a list of things that have caused you stress in past years. It might be last-minute shopping or accepting too many party invitations or eating too many holiday goodies. Decide which ones you might be able to address ahead of time in order to lessen the stress.
  • Enlist the help and support of friends and loved ones by agreeing to slow down and simplify.  This might mean agreeing to a potluck meal instead of doing it all by yourself or the adults agreeing to give to a favorite charity instead of buying gifts for each other.
  • Remember that mindfulness means being aware in the present moment. It’s impossible to do this if we’re racing ahead in mind and body.

 

I love this definition of mindfulness from James Baraz:

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant, without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant, without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”