By Christopher C. Gagliardi, Staff Writer
Growing up with autism, I was in a program that taught me the value of a work environment and an honest day’s pay, especially when I got older and found a job of my own.
I was one of the lucky people who were taught by teachers and support coordinators. During my time at my alma mater, I tried out all sorts of jobs, including a fast-food restaurant and a hospital. It was not comfortable for me because, at that time, my mom was going through her first bout with cancer. After graduation, I looked for a job all around my hometown, however, the mom and pop shops didn’t want to hire me. The only place that took a chance on me was a coffee shop in 2003; I’ve worked there for the past several years for two hours every Sunday.
Before that, I worked two days a week for four hours, sometimes five. This helped me build my self-esteem and confidence. Afterward, I had to deal with obstacles such as the 2008 recession, in which my hours and my days were reduced dramatically. I knew how important it was to give other people a chance because they had families to support, so, I was more than happy to give up a day of work. As a person who is on the autism spectrum, it was not easy to adjust to this change. As I reflected on the matter, while I was writing this article, I cannot help but be grateful that I still have this job. However, there is a bigger reason why I’m sharing this story with you.
According to a February 2019 report by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, the employment-population ratio was 19.1% among those with a disability. Those without a disability was 65.9%. The employment-population ratio for persons with a disability increased from 2017 to 2018. The unemployment rate for persons with or without a disability declined from the previous year to 8% and 3.7%, respectively. In addition, the same report stated that 5,767 people who were 16 years and over and had a challenge to have a job, mental or physical. Here is the most tragic part of the story: according to an article by verywellhealth.com, between 66-88% of adults who have autism spectrum disorder are unemployed or underemployed. The precise statistic is based on study parameters.
The tide is changing as far as the workforce is concerned. Today, major companies such as Ernst and Young, SAP, Microsoft, Freddie Mac and Ford are just a few autism-friendly workplaces. Small businesses, such as a hydroponic farm in Bergen County called GreensDoGood, are showing that people on the autism spectrum can contribute toward the American dream and prove they have what it takes to make it in the workforce.
Bergen Community College also has a program that involves helping adults who have autism spectrum disorder seek employment, called the “Turning Point” program. This is a program of people with special needs between the ages of 18 and 30-years-old. The career pathway credentialing courses have seen major success since its establishment in 2016. Eighty-eight percent of graduates are employed in paid integrated employment. Of those students who participated in a Career Pathway Credentialing Course, 74% are employed in paid integrated employment for 16 or more hours per week.
Vince Lombardi once said, “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” We must make sure that this kind of success happens more often and that the autistic American will be able to have access to any job, whether it be in the public or private sector. We must also make sure that no one is denied the chance for the American dream.