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Autism Awareness Day… Autism and the workforce.


It's today.

This time last year, we didn't have a diagnosis for Erik, so this is my first Autism Awareness Day with the knowledge that my child is one of the 1/100 Australian children on the spectrum.

Last night the Grumpy Old Man and I were watching Parenthood. One of the characters in the show is a teen boy named Max who has Aspergers. Even though I know the actor is only playing a part, I marvel at how much overlap there is between Max's interactions with his environment and Erik's. A whole conversation of 'I don't know' answers because he can't express how he is feeling about a difficult situation. The 'You said!' straight down the line, black and white interpretation of the 'rules'. So similar!

There is one major point of difference between the character of Max and our son Erik. Max struggles to make friends. Erik really does not struggle with this.

And that is ASD - as individual as the individual.  Not all people with ASD are loners. Erik certainly isn't.

However, the show did touch on something, last night, that worries me. Max's dad pointed out that part of the reason Max had lost the only friend he had at school, was because the other kids had begun to notice the differences in Max. That is to say, what might have blended in in early childhood as socially unaware, was beginning to stand out like dogs balls by the time Max was 15.

I'm sure Erik will always manage to find friends - he is just that sort of person. My concern is how he will go getting work. Another character int he show, Hank, becomes disturbed when Max throws a tantrum in his shop over the cancellation of an afternoon's plans, so he finds a book on Aspergers and begins reading up on the syndrome. As he reads, he recognises himself and his own struggles throughout life, particularly in his work, where he sometimes misses out on photography jobs for no reason he can understand.

In the episode, they show just that kind of situation. Hank in an interview, unable to detect the subtle non-verbals the interviewer is sending out about what he is hoping for from his prospective employee. Hank misses out on the job, and cannot understand why.

This is my biggest worry for Erik. As talented as he is, if he cannot process the subtle cues in conversation, the grey areas, how will he cope?

It would be great if employers were more aware, and understood how to speak with a person with ASD , so the employer could benefit from the employee with ASD's talents. Maybe by the time Erik is looking for full time employment there will have been enough Autism Awareness Day that employers will start taking note?

I hope so!


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