In the less empowering events of my last week, I attended a career workshop that, if nothing else, provided many excellent examples of the gross rift between well-meaning service staff and the people they are supposed to be assisting.
“Say you have a client who only wants to talk about Batman,” the presenter set up the discussion.
The audience, primarily consisting of service providers and parents who referred to the few autistic audience members in third person throughout the day, all had a good, hearty laugh at that. (I was not amused.)
The discussion continued, Oh noes! Only wants to talk about Batman! Whatever shall we do!
Enter: behavior modification, job coaching, rules and rules and rules, hooray!
So shift the context. A person without any sort of disability is seeking career advice. “What are you interested in?” is likely one of the first things asked.
“Well, it’s kind of silly, but I really like comic books, especially Batman.”
“OK, great, have you considered working in a comic book shop?” would be a likely reply.
“Yeah, I considered it, but I don’t really like retail, I’ve never done well with the public.”
“What about working for a comic book manufacturer? Do you have any interest in learning more about printing pre-processing?” the session might continue. Not, “Yes, liking Batman a lot is silly. And don’t talk about Batman to your co-workers either. How about a nice job washing dishes?”
Like anyone, I succeed best at a job that is connected to my interests. I thrive in a corporate environment that is suited to my personality and temperament, and doesn’t require me to conform to mainstream social behavior.
Matching autistic employees with jobs that suit their interests and personalities isn’t radical stuff. Boston University’s ICI reference Supporting Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Quality Employment Practices starts out saying the same thing,
It is imperative to match the job to the unique set of strengths, interests, and passions that the person with ASD brings to the situation.
From the self-advocate side, Joel Smith has an excellent collection of materials from his 2004 Autreat presentation Making Employment Fit.
So why did the “expert” at the career planning workshop never mention finding work that suited a “client’s” interests? Or finding a corporate environment which is well suited for a person without needing to make large behavioral changes? Or even mentioning jobs outside of custodianship, food service, stockrooms, or assembly lines, all of which have typically mainstream social or corporate cultures?
No way to know for sure, but it’s likely influenced by defect (medical model) thinking about disability. Seeing deficiencies instead of a human being will lead to considering every part of that person, including their interests, as pathology to be avoided or corrected. It will lead to not seeing a person who can benefit from the same type of career counciling as any other person. It will close off creative problem solving process. It will see only limited, stereotyped solutions.
If an autistic job seeker is considered to be just like a non-disabled job seeker with respect to finding a job that suits their interests, skills, and personality, then a comic book shop or printer might be recommended first for the Batman lover, instead behavior modification that denies the person their legitimate interests.
From skimming recent news stories, Wiz Kid Hacker Now Works to Stop Botnet Menace: Hired as Cyber-Crime Expert is one story of what can happen when an autistic person’s interests are channeled into employment that is well suited to their interests and abilities. This story about an autistic man once diagnosed with intellectual disability who is now an Internal Bank Auditor with a Master’s in Accounting is another. And this blog post is yet another.