There are many ways to be different. People who are Highly Functional Autistic (HFA) are just one kind that captured my attention for obvious reasons. The name of David, my HFA son, appears in 24 articles in this blog. The term "HFA employment" appears in 20 entries.
We never believed David will graduate from high school. He did. We never believed David will be able to study a technical skill at college level. He did.
In September 2013, I presented the second draft of a plan to create in a very short term quality employment for Highly Functioning Autistic (HFA) young people. Please read it. I estimated 300,000 of HFA persons in US alone and we must do something.
We incorporated the deaf mute in US productive society starting from 1885. This is the stage we are now with HFA. We discovered they can be productive, in many cases, more productive than mainstream employees like me.Who supports HFA employment? Absolutely everybody who is a mensch. Just read at any time Autism Speaks. The lobby for HFA employment has the intelligence, know-how and creativity and includes business leaders, movie stars, academia and top politicians.
But there is no efficient plan of action yet. I describe below my experience so far, trying to get David the first job after graduating last summer from Sierra College, in Rocklin, California
Employment is a social pretense
David Brooks in New York Times writes;
Job seeking is the second greatest arena of social pretense in modern life — after dating.Yesterday I watched the Town Hall meeting with the republican candidate billionaire Donald Trump on MSNBC. Mr. Trump says the employment is so bad - in his opinion - that his friends can't get jobs.
If the friends of Donald Trump can't get a job, what about the others mainstream people? Then what about an HFA job seeker, like David?
David repairs laptops, He can build devices, like a text to speech machine. He uses PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) coding stored in his laptop to do simple and medium designs in mechatronics. He is competent and organized . He does things, rather than talking about things.
He needs a facilitator nearby and then he works independently. He is not a genius, as many people believe the cliche of famous autistic personalities (Beethoven, Newton, Bill Gates, etc) . We are all autistic, at the end, on less pronounced characteristics. Therefore David is a "normal" person. He needs some facilitating to be as productive as all of us. or maybe more.
Five reasons why HFA's job seeking does not work
1. Job descriptions are written for mainstream candidates only
Working in a team with Progressive Employment Solutions we prepared a short list of what David can do. Out of 500 job openings, there is not even one that they can identify as suitable. All jobs are created for mainstream people. Moreover, many jobs describe nonexistent people, a sort of Superman from the best schools and best marks, to be paid a beginner salary.
2. The resume system is not usable for HFAs
Human Relations used The Resume for decades to identify candidates for an interview. The resumes, in the age of social media and humongous databases (Big Data) are meaningless. They are rarely seen by human eyes. They are sorted by crawlers based on keywords, using algorithms destined to get superstars, or trickster candidates who may cheat the system.
In the case of David, he and his facilitators prepared a multi-media presentation with all he can do. He presented it to some HR organizations, but they have a challenge to match these skills to any of hiring managers specs. All devices shown are built and programmed by him. The narration is from a text-to-speech device also built by David
We hope to match the skills above with a real job in a real company.
3. Equal opportunity employment is hard to implement
Large companies like Intel have splendid Equal Employment Opportunity policies . We can read that
Disability discrimination includes not making reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, barring undue hardship.
Intel is the best example of company where women, Hispanic, African- American and Native-American are growing segments of the work force. Here is the sample of the Intel Diversity and Inclusion Annual report 2015, very impressive indeed.
But there is no mention about disability facilitation for people with mental limitations. I was impressed by the good-will of the HR department to make David job a reality, but there are no procedures, and no precedents in hiring HFA candidates.
Ideally, David and his facilitators wanted to ask a hiring manager questions about a potential position like
- Does it fit David's technical skills he learned in college?
- Does it require above average attention to details?
- Can we estimate the time required to be fully productive (3 months)?
- Can David learn new skills as he did successfully in college?
- How much David likes the job?
They did not know who were the people to ask, because they didn't know of any jobs where David might apply.
4. The missing function of Director of Special Employment in corporations
Every school in US has a Director in Special (Needs) Education. I simply ask a rhetorical question:
If every college in US has a department of Special Education, why can't every company have Human Relations Director of Special (Needs) Employment?
5. The lack of entrepreneurial initiatives to employ HFA
I asked David to make a list of equipment he would need to start an independent Mechatronix lab offering services to consumers (laptop repairs) and programming and building small prototypes for business customers. Here is sample from his list.
This is work in progress, but my idea is to establish a non-profit that employs one HFA Mechatronix technician and one mainstream top notch Mechatronix specialist / leader. The lab will grow maintaining the mainstream to HFA ratio of 1:1 with the goal of decreasing this to 1:2 in three years.
The bootstrap of such a non-profit is not simple, takes time, and like any startup, is more risky. Yet we are considering all alternatives
But the solution that scales best is to employ most HFA professionals in existing corporations and be part of the workforce society in a beneficial way.