By Kami-Leigh Agard
There is a job for everyone. Whether you’re an artist, hostess, union tradesperson, writer, bartender, plumber, IT specialist, doctor, fireman—the list goes on—it just looks a little different for each of us. And it should be no different for individuals on the autism spectrum. I stated, “should be” because unfortunately for ASD working-age individuals, the employment forecast is grim. However, there are countless organizations, including Rockaway Beach Autism Families, looking to change that. In this final installation of my four-part column series, I lay out RBAF’s mission to serve as a bridge for working-age ASD adults looking for a job and local businesses willing to tap in all the capital benefits of including an autistic workforce.
A conservative estimate is that 50,000 to 60,000 autistic people turn 18 annually. They graduate from high school and are ready to take on college and careers, yet four in 10 adults with autism never work for pay between high school and their early 20s. Why is that? I asked one 24-year-old local young man, and he frankly stated that he does not know if anyone would hire him. One barrier he faces is not having an official high school diploma. When ASD individuals phase out of high school, generally at age 21, depending on the program, many don’t get a high school diploma, but instead a certificate. So, if, for example, he wants to apply for a job at the Department of Sanitation, he is automatically ineligible. I suggested that he apply to a local business and start building his resume. Yet still, he’s afraid.
I approached a local supermarket about hiring locals on the autism spectrum and was happy to hear that they’re interested. However, they want a structured plan on how the individuals will be trained and supported while at work. This is where Rockaway Beach Autism Families comes in.
RBAF’s employment agency department will serve as a community-based service that embraces “there is a job for everyone” philosophy to assist ASD job seekers towards obtaining and maintaining employment. Job seekers will be guided through the employment process, from resume development, person-centered job matches to onsite job support.
For a soft launch, locally placed individuals will be supported on the job site with a community coordinator, who will supervise the individual’s job output, as well as serve as a support system.
RBAF recognizes that small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. Just look at the hundreds of businesses dotting the peninsula and Broad Channel, all contributing to Rockaway’s economic vibrancy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, companies with fewer than 500 employees comprise 99.9% of businesses and employ 47.3% of the workforce in the private sector. Small businesses provide sought-after employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Studies have found that more than 70% of people with disabilities would prefer to work in a small organization. Our goal is to help Rockaway’s small business include people with disabilities in their workforce, making it a win-win for all involved, boosting the community’s overall morale.
To conclude, in this four-part column series, I’ve laid out the case why autistic adults deserve the chance to live an independent, fulfilling life. Many desire and deserve to be employed, and should be hired based on their abilities, not their autism diagnosis. Talent, creativity, and know-how abound in autistic people, and from accounting and the arts to factories, food service and more—countless industries await their contributions and innovations. Join RBAF in making Rockaway a cut above the rest by including autistic individuals in the fabric of what makes our community not just great, but special.
Save the date! On Sunday, April 23, RBAF is hosting Rockaway’s first-ever “Walk for Autism Awareness” on the boardwalk, kicking off at Beach 126th Street! To register (free!), visit: rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org. All welcome! For further info, email email@example.com or visit Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/Instagram. “Join us in turning the tide for the autism community, one wave at a time.”