Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Struggle for A Teenager with Autism to Land a Job

Novelist and writer Ann Bauer this week published a poignant column in The Washington Post describing her family's experience working with her son Andrew over the past two years to find an entry-level job -- without success. (You can read the column by clicking here.)

Andrew, almost 19 years old, is described as sweet, smart, responsible enough to clean up the kitchen when his mom leaves him alone at home -- all good things. But he's also facing the challenges involved with lacking social skills. So while he can engage in conversations and passes the math test to work in a factory, and shows how dependable he is as a nursing home volunteer, it's his social awkwardness that makes others uncomfortable with him. And while Bauer says that the Target retail chain is well-known for hiring people with disabilities, their policy emphasizes the hiring of disabled workers with visible disabilities (like a wheelchair would represent) rather than the invisible challenge that someone with autism would present to members of the shopping public. (Bauer begins the piece by citing Andrew's size, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, and a reader is left to wonder if his physicality somehow magnifies his social awkwardness.)

Bauer has written for the online magazine Salon, and is the author of a novel, "A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards," about the efforts of a mom to help her young child who suddenly withdraws from the world. (Find more information about her and the novel by clicking here.) She concludes her piece by wondering if her continuing efforts to place Andrew in a job will help him and others among the growing population of children with autism spectrum disorders as they grow up:

"My son is one of many: Some time in the next decade, the Autism Society of America estimates, the number of people in this country who have autism will hit 4 million. I wonder if, when these children reach the age of 18, they too will be unemployable. Or if, perhaps, the work we're doing with Andrew now will mean a different experience for those who follow."

No comments: