Employment is More Than Just a Paycheck

I have been reminded lately of just how much it means to be appreciated by family, friends, and co-workers. People are often judged by their age, what others think they can contribute to society, and a lot of other factors that have nothing to do with their value. We tend to push people aside and marginalize them if they do not fit the “norm,” not realizing the hidden potential each and every person has to give. I know I am blessed to have a wonderful support system at this point in my life, as I have reached an age where some might consider me “over the hill.” Knowing you are still needed and valued is the best fountain of youth there is!

This brings to mind another population that is also undervalued…people with disabilities. We are seeing some improvement in the overall employment numbers in the general disability community. However, there is still an enormous unemployment gap between neurotypicals and those on the autism spectrum. Why is that? Could it be because employers are afraid to hire someone with autism? Is it because people with autism can’t or don’t want to do the jobs that are available? Do we not have a good support system in place for those looking for work and for those on the job? Possibly a combination of all of the above.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a company that actually approached us at Autism TN to promote a job that they had created specifically for someone with autism. I also mentioned several other grassroots projects that were beginning to pop up both locally and nationally to create more employment opportunities. While this fills me with hope, there is still a lot more we can do to create all types of opportunities for our adults to find a productive, meaningful life. I do firmly believe that everyone is capable of doing something, whether it’s a full-time position, a few hours a day, or a volunteer job a couple of times a week. The key, I think, is matching the person to the position.

I met a very dynamic young (to me!) man last week at our Summer Opportunities Fair, whom I had known about but never met. John Camperlino is the Supported Employment Director at a company called MillarRich in Nashville. One of the services they provide is working with clients to get an overview of the needs and skills and passions they have and then going with the client to the Vocational Rehabilitation (V-R) office to help them begin the process. They take their time to look for just the right job that fits that person and then continue their support for a year which, in my opinion, is crucial.

I was so impressed with his passion for this work, and in talking to him realized that this might be the missing link in our failed employment system. I know from personal experience just how important it is to have a job that “fits” you; somewhere where you feel like a contributor, not just another employee punching a time clock. I can only imagine how important this would be to someone on the autism spectrum. When you have a job that interests you, that utilizes your unique talents, and that makes you feel useful and worthy, you are more engaged as a person. It may take a little longer to find that right match, but it’s worth the effort.

My kudos to MillarRich and any other organization that is working in this direction! I think this may be the way we get those unemployment numbers down and get our sons and daughters into the workforce and into more productive lives.  If you know of any other people or companies that act as “headhunters” for those with autism, please share with us.  Let’s start looking at employment as more than just a paycheck!



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