Michael Bernick at The Wall Street Journal:
Our group, known as Aascend—an acronym for Autism, Asperger Spectrum Coalition for Education, Networking and Development—is one of several autism mutual-support groups that have arisen across the U.S. I’ve been part of Aascend since 2011, as a family member of an adult with autism. We consider ourselves part of the long tradition of American voluntary associations celebrated by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s and by many social scientists since. Only now, in 21st-century America, the autism associations’ Tocquevillian culture of mutual support makes them stand out.
Aascend’s main focus for the past few years has been on employment. Though data are scarce, the largest recent study of autism employment, from Drexel University in 2017, found that only 14% of adults with autism and using government disability services held a paying job. The estimates have changed little in the past three decades, despite the numerous government departments and initiatives serving workers with disabilities.
Aascend members help each other advance. Last week an email arrived from a parent with a son on the autism spectrum. Although the son has a college degree in computer science, he hasn’t been able to find a job. I forwarded the email to Mr. Jayaraman, who agreed to help with job leads. Brian Jacobs, a prominent venture capitalist, has used his tech network to identify opportunities, as has Dan Simpson at Cruise Automation. Three of our members are working now at the software company SAP, with others at Amazon, Apple and in local government. Aascend has also met with Salesforce , Airbnb, Pinterest and LinkedIn—all local employers with budding autism-targeted initiatives.