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Monday, July 12, 2010

Employment and ASD

The Columbus Dispatch reports that young adults with ASD may fall through the cracks of government services. Programs specifically for ASD often focus on children. Programs for employment of adults often focus on other kinds of disability:

Families report frustration as they turn to agencies such as the Rehabilitation Services Commission of Ohio; its history is rooted in finding jobs for people with traditional disabilities: hearing loss, mobility problems and blindness, for example.

County boards of developmental disabilities serve some adults with autism, but those with mild forms such as Asperger's might not qualify for services and the waivers that pay for them. Yet their "social dyslexia," as some describe the condition, can be crippling in the work world.

Ellen Ridenour, Chelsea's mother, said the family sought help from the commission's Bureau of Vocational Services in 2008 but found that their caseworker knew little about Asperger's syndrome. Although Chelsea had recently graduated from college with a 3.9 grade-point average, her family was told that she was "not competitively employable."

Others have reported similar experiences.

"I don't think they have any idea yet of the challenges of Asperger's," said Nancy Beu, a North Side woman whose 28-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, went through many difficult evaluations and interviews before getting a job at a YMCA.

"They don't do well with job interviews. That's overwhelming for them. Some of the case managers think, 'They're not employable.' Well, most of these young people have wonderful skills. Elizabeth always proves herself."

The commission's administrator, Michael Rench, met with some families and told them the agency is working to improve training and find better ways to help clients with autism.

"We recognize the frustration," he said.

But, at the same time, the commission remains obligated to serve the most-significantly disabled first. "If they have a master's degree and drive a car, it can be hard to determine how they qualify for our services," Rench said.

The commission served 860 Ohioans with autism last year. Officials say 122 cases were "successfully closed," meaning that the workers maintained competitive employment for at least 90 days.

Filler said that's often not long enough for a young adult with autism to adjust. She worries that traditional time frames and limited budgets allow cases to be closed before the workers attain stability.

National employment studies have found that, among recent high-school graduates with disabilities, those with autism have the highest job-retention rates after more than a year, Filler said. But two to six months into the job, they fare the worst.

Also see a Missouri report.