Archive for August, 2010

Employment & ASD

This is another good article calling attention to the need for transitional services, or some type of early intervention when it comes to employment and autism spectrum disorders. I can’t even remember how many jobs I’ve actually had since I was 15. I never could understand why I had so many problems with employment, but now I know, and I’m really not alone. It took me years to train myself about social interactions and to find a job where I fit in. To me, it really is just like I’m an actor in a play. But others aren’t so lucky…and it saddens me that so many smart and hard-working people with ASDs cannot find a job, perhaps because of some silly (to me anyway) reason, such as insufficient eye contact during an interview.

Yes, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. And it just isn’t fair….

Employment help often lacking for applicants facing difficulties with interviews, workplace interactions
Monday, July 12, 2010 02:50 AM BY RITA PRICE


Chelsea Ridenour, 23, an honors college grad, reads before a Franklin University accounting class. She has struggled to find and keep a job.

Chelsea Ridenour had to leave one promising job because she was required to work on the help desk. As her father, Rick, said, she is “phone-phobic.”

Her resume attracted plenty of attention.

Hospitals, technology companies and a major research organization indicated that Chelsea Ridenour – computer and math whiz, summa cum laude graduate of Capital University – looked good on paper. Some called for interviews.

And then, suddenly, it didn’t seem to matter that she is intelligent and dependable and tenacious. Ridenour can communicate with a computer in six languages, but she can’t chat her way through a face-to-face meeting with a stranger.

“People try to be nice. They’re not deliberately not nice,” the Hilliard resident said. “They just don’t understand.”

Ridenour is among a rising population of young adults whose coming-of-age stories are at best complicated and oftentimes heartbreaking. They are grown-ups with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism disorders, conditions that society seems to handle best when boys and girls are young and in school.

But Ridenour is 23. What she needs is a job.

“My pitch always has been, ‘There’s a buyer for every house. Why don’t we find the buyers for these kids who want to work?'” said Tom Fish of the Ohio State University Nisonger Center, a support and research institute for people with developmental disabilities.

“The challenge with people on the (autism) spectrum, of course, is social interaction,” he said. “People look at these kids and say, ‘Be more social.’ Well, they can’t.”

Many young people with Asperger’s syndrome, or “high-functioning” forms of autism, emerge from years of struggle, bullying and isolation in high school only to find that the adult world can be even more difficult. According to the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence, national studies have found that only 6 percent to 14 percent of adults with autism are competitively employed.

Yet many possess normal – and in a lot of cases, superior – intellectual abilities.

The surge in autism diagnoses – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the incidence at one in 110 American children – first was felt in education systems.

Now, families and government agencies are trying to chart the course to employment.

“We weren’t ready,” said Chris Filler, transition coordinator at the Ohio Center for Autism. “This wave of what used to be preschoolers with autism is moving on, and we’re really scrambling to meet that need.”

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.

Brian Cloppert had the ability. What he needed was someone to help him find a groove, to put abstract concepts into concrete terms.

“He’s a very bright young man, has a lot of knowledge, skill and capability,” said Pat Batdorf, an on-the-job training specialist at the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities who works with Cloppert. “It’s just a matter of connecting the dots.”

For three years, Cloppert, a 27-year-old who has Asperger’s syndrome, has worked as a supply coordinator at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, where he handles inventory for four floors.

“Of all the jobs I’ve trained in 25 years, this is probably the most complicated,” Batdorf said. “But he’s doing great.”

Cloppert’s family agrees that he is fortunate to have long-term job coaching, which isn’t easy to come by. And not everyone who gets the help is happy to land jobs that seem below their abilities.

“We have one man who has a master’s degree, and right now, he’s doing some janitorial work,” said Claudia Ross, the board’s employment-services director. “He’s not happy, and we know it; but socially, he’s so unskilled.”

Filler and others see some solutions in earlier job planning – in middle school, not after high school or college – and by helping employers understand the strengths of many people with autism.

“Small-business owners,” Rench said, “can make adaptations quicker than a corporation. They’re more than willing to tolerate the quirkiness.”

Chelsea had to leave one promising job because she was required to work on the help desk. “If they’d let her do programming, she’d be great,” said her dad, Rick. “But the help desk? She’s phone-phobic.”

Mrs. Ridenour said she hopes the lessons learned by her family can help others understand that academic success isn’t enough of a base to build on. She wishes that Chelsea had had earlier work experience and support.

“We didn’t think we’d have to do all this,” Mrs. Ridenour said. “We thought employers would be looking for skills, not the ability to socialize around the water cooler.”

Chelsea recently learned that she is eligible, at least temporarily, for some job help from the developmental disabilities board, and she might try an internship for math- and science-skilled adults with disabilities.

She’s trying to forget the person who, after a strained conversation about employment, “decided that I didn’t really want a job.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For information and help, contact Aspirations, a social and vocational-support program for young adults with autism disorders. Visit the website atwww.aspirationsohio.org or call 614-292-4185.

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