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Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Autism-Friendly Workplaces

Michael Bernick at Politico:
The true autism-friendly workplace is one that incorporates flexibility and patience, giving the worker time to learn skills and develop any needed workplace behaviors they might lack.
How do we ensure that people with autism find opportunities that meet these requirements? What’s worked best for Will and other AASCEND members is unglamorous, intensive, one-to-one placement and retention services. In California, these are offered by DDS and the Department of Rehabilitation, as well as regional agencies that work with nonprofits such as ARC, Goodwill, Best Buddies and Pomeroy Center. This network, when operating effectively, can guide workers through the employment process by identifying job leads, negotiating with employers, informing employers about government wage subsidies and on-the-job training funds, and providing ongoing job coaching and problem-solving support.

These services draw on the main elements of the Individual Placement and Support model, an approach developed by a team associated with Dartmouth Medical School in the 1990s that emphasizes intensive, individualized assistance in job placement and retention. (The model was originally targeted at people with mental illnesses but has been adapted for other populations with high unemployment rates.) In a report issued last December, MDRC, the leading national employment research entity, documented the value of the ISP model across the majority of the programs studied, citing examples of what success looks like: rapid job searches, follow-along support, coordination between program staff and mental health professionals and, most of all, small caseloads of fewer than 20 job seekers.

The problem right now is that, among intensive job search programs, the quality of services can be quite uneven. Job counselors and job coaches often come to their positions with little training or direction. They often are given caseloads of 60 to 70 job seekers. They might have four to five hours a month to spend on each worker — not nearly enough to assist in any serious way. Without knowledge of the job placement process, more than a few job counselors today will default to online job boards, which for most adults with developmental differences are black holes, where applications go to disappear.

Funding for this system is split between the federal government and state governments, with programs operated by states and regional entities. To really help adults with autism, the Biden administration and state governments need to prioritize improving and professionalizing this existing intensive employment services system. That will mean different things in different areas. To serve their clients better, some states will want reduced caseloads, improved staff wages and additional training. The role of the job counselor or coach should be valued and decently compensated, and candidates should have a strong sense of mission and craft.