The Ability to Matter at Work

Because of the way we as a society defined what it meant to be neurologically disabled, individuals with disabilities were often trapped in employment that involved high social skills and low cognitive skills.  It was a foreign concept to think of a person who is neurologically impaired as cognitively intact.  The assumption that all neurologically impaired individuals must have low cognitive functioning led to the idea that they would do best in “easy” jobs like bagging groceries, cleaning or greeting customers.  This may be true for certain individuals with neurological disabilities but is certainly not true for all of them.  To be successful in these types of jobs employees in these positions have to have the social skills to tolerate every person coming in and out of a store or workplace.  However, we know that individuals with autism tend to have typical or high cognitive functioning and struggle the most with social skills.  These “easy” jobs can set individuals with autism up for failure because they demand social skills that will be difficult to master and do not offer any cognitive stimulation which can lead to boredom and behavior.  There is a saying in the autism community – “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”  Because it is a spectrum of disorders, there are similar characteristics that each individual must meet to qualify for a diagnosis of autism, but the manifestation of these characteristics vary widely from individual to individual.  Until recently, their struggle with social skills that caused them to fail at these “easy” jobs led people to believe they were unemployable.  We believe that every person can have paid or unpaid employment in the community with non-disabled peers.  Unpaid employment can often lead to paid employment if the person is allowed to practice social skills during their unpaid employment.  Every person, regardless of abilities, benefits from having a place in society and somewhere to go where they contribute something.  Feeling like a contributing member of society is as important to individuals with disabilities as it is to individuals without disabilities.  Paid employment opportunities should be based on each individuals interests and strengths, not their diagnosis.  It is important to gather detailed information about strengths from staff who work with the individuals, families, and professionals.  It is also imperative to understand the individuals interests in order to avoid repeated failure at job placements that will undermine the individual’s faith in themselves and their placement in their community.  With the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen outside factors that affect the success of job placements and in some cases created job loss.  However, when everyone’s job is affected, it makes us feel more a part of our community, but when it is only our job that fails due to a poor placement or lack of support after placement, it becomes a personal failure.  Personal failures are harder to overcome and leave us feeling bad about ourselves whether we are disabled or not.