If you were to poll the parents of children in the autism community and ask them about the concerns they have, the uncertainty about their child’s future would be at the top of many lists. I know. I have a fourteen-year-old son with autism. This worry has haunted me for twelve years, since my son, Tate, was diagnosed. It is always in the back of my mind. What are we going to do when Tate is too old to go to school? I know parents of young adults on the spectrum, and while some are researching group homes, others are desperately trying to help their children find employment.
Tate is entering High School this year. He still cannot count change accurately. He processes language slowly. His social skills are poor. He will likely never be a good candidate for most jobs. He lacks many of the skills necessary.
Autism Speaks reports that approximately ninety percent of the adult autism population are unemployed. I have recently corresponded with two adults with an Asperger’s diagnosis who have told me how difficult it is to fit in, even when they are very capable of working a job. The social skills required to hold many jobs are often difficult to teach to a person on the spectrum. They are often misunderstood and coworkers are sometimes unfriendly, even when the actual work is being done well.
More and more parents are becoming proactive in finding meaningful employment opportunities for their adult children on the spectrum. It is said: “necessity is the mother of invention.” In the news lately, there have been some amazing stories. Adults with autism are working in bakeries and kitchens. One family started a carwash business that employs adults with autism. These are fantastic ideas. These are not things that my son would probably enjoy or excel at. He could definitely be taught the skills needed to bake cakes and cookies and to wash a car. His sensory issues would make car washing torturous for him though. Interacting with the public would lead to much confusion too.
I have recently gotten to know a mother named Shelly who gives me hope and inspiration. Shelly’s son Jacob is about to age out of public school. Jacob reminds me a lot of my son. Shelly and her husband are concerned about Jacob’s future and finding meaningful employment for him. Jacob, like my son, is impaired developmentally and socially. Despite years of vocational training in school, with a wonderful teacher, Jacob has been considered unemployable. In order to employ Jacob, there would be a need for complete and constant supervision. Jacob is sometimes defiant and uncooperative as well. What kind of occupation could there possibly be for a young man like Jacob?
Because Jacob has an amazing set of parents who know his weaknesses but try to focus on his strengths, they may have found the perfect niche for Jacob. They are helping Jacob to start his own internet sales business. Every day Shelly and Jacob work on the skills he will need to create his products, market them, package them and sell them. Jacob has leaned to do inventory and much more. He especially loves any part of the business that involves using a computer. He picked up invoicing through Paypal very quickly and enjoys that part of the business the most.
At first, Jacob’s training sessions did not last more than half an hour. Thirty minutes was all he could handle. Some days Jacob cooperates more than others but he is making a real effort and learning so much. His training sessions are getting longer. This is all a full-time job for Shelly and it leaves her exhausted. There are high hopes that Shelly will fade some into the background as Jacob gains skills. Their goal is not to get rich, but to give Jacob meaningful employment that he can be proud of. This kind of thing would not work for every family. Jacob will need supervision close by, even if not hands on, at all times.
The business is in its earliest stages and there is still much to be done. The most obvious thing needed for Jacob's training to succeed, in the form of actual employment skills, is through the repetition that comes with consistent orders. In order to facilitate that, Jacob's parents are trying their best to build a customer base through social media and word of mouth.
To learn more about Jacob and his business, go to Journey to Jacob’s Ladder on Facebook or find his Etsy store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/Journey2JacobsLadder/items
Jacob is just one of many young people who are entering adulthood but unable to become part of the traditional workforce. There are many more upcoming young entrepreneurs on the spectrum in search of a niche to call their own.
Here are some photos of Jacob "on the job." Notice how much of the work he is doing on his own. His mom is always there to guide but Jacob is doing everything he can, on his own.