So because it's been so long since my last entry, and since so much has happened between then and now, I'm splitting this update into three posts. This first one is going to be about work-related stuff
••• The autism nonprofit where I work has been putting together an employment pilot program
over the past few months now. What this program will do is train autistic adults with little to no work history in mid-level jobs, with the ultimate goal of getting them competitive employment in a workplace where disabled and non-disabled people work together. In that way it's sort of based off of places like Roses For Autism
, the Walgreens distribution centers
, and Specialisterne
, which give autistic adults more fulfilling jobs where they can actually use their skills, instead of the kinds of menial entry-level jobs they get "stuck" in by adult day centers and state vocational rehab agencies (like BRS, who I've talked about before). Right now the pilot project has hired a data analytics firm that specializes in patent research
to train three people to be research assistants; I really don't know much else as to what's been going on, but from what little I've heard it's doing fairly well, despite the mistakes and mismanagement you'd expect when a big thing like this is just starting out.
I was supposed to be a part of this program; I even had an interview last December with the president of our board of directors, who's also the lead principal of the headhunter agency that's coordinating this program with us (and whose office is just upstairs from ours). And I've heard absolutely nothing since then. XPPP Which makes me a little peeved, because even though patent research doesn't sound like a field I want to get into, I could really use something where I can gain job skills and experience, and make more money than I have been right now. I did get a chance to talk to her last week, though, and she said that not only does the training take longer than she thought (six months instead of three), but they can only train two people at any given time, and it might be a few more months before they find a place for me in the project. Obviously I don't like not knowing when I'll be starting, but in reality it doesn't bother me at all because, as you'll soon see, I've been busy with lots of other things. ^_^;
In the meantime, the project needs grant money in order for it to actually work, and I was told to research facts and statistics about adults with autism and employment so they'd be that much more likely to receive an award. And, well.....I should probably just leave the results of that research here
, because I think it just says it all. I kinda figured the job situation for autistic adults was bad -- it is for people of all kinds of disabilities, after all -- but I didn't realize it was this
bad. Like, there are some estimates out there saying the unemployment rate for autistic adults is 90%? WTF?! Many of them are perfectly capable of holding down good jobs, and in some cases their autism gives them skills and advantages over neurotypical people; all they need, in essence, is some support and accommodations, but employers too often treat them as if they don't even exist. >_< I could go on, especially about how full inclusion is good for both the employee and the employer, but I think the outline I linked above should help explain that. What really gets me, though, is how little this is being talked about right now -- sure, there are a few articles about it here and there, and NBC Dateline did do a report on autistic adults the weekend before last
[autoplay], but with 50,000 autistic kids turning 18 in the U.S. each year (and with this number likely to increase as ASD diagnoses do), this is going to become a serious social policy problem before long. But not as many people care because it's not as charismatic or controversial as, say, rape on college campuses or police brutality against black people. >_>;
(Unfortunately, I've gathered that we haven't gotten much grant money thus far, and it seems that the bill in the state legislature that would help fund our program is stuck in limbo
. I just really hope our luck changes soon enough. =_=;)
••• While I was doing research for the pilot program
, I came across something in San Francisco called the "Autism Job Club."
It's a group of autistic adults who are unemployed or underemployed, who meet once a month to go over things like networking, interview skills, how to dress appropriately, how to get along with coworkers, etc., as well as share job leads and moral support. From what I can tell, sometimes they also bring in guest speakers, employers, and headhunters who are looking to hire adults with autism, or who need a little convincing that it would be a good idea. I found this to be really intriguing, especially since I couldn't think of anything quite like it near where I live. I mean, I go to a support group for young men on the autism spectrum once a month, but it's very informal and deals with a wide range of topics, not just jobs; and between adult day services, vocational rehab, and projects like the ones I mentioned earlier, there are many programs out there to help get people employed. But something that functions as both a support and
a networking group, where people are there specifically to talk about employment, which they can't attain despite it being probably the most important way to help them? Something that could be really helpful to lots of people? Nope, nothing.
So I thought to myself, well, what if I helped start one?
Fast forward to last Friday afternoon, and I'm at the Yale Child Study Center meeting with both this woman
, who just started a program for young women with autism
that would train and then place them in various jobs, and the director of student services at the UConn Law School
, who is also a co-director for a consulting firm that helps autistic students be successful in college
. They were really interested to hear my idea, and we bounced ideas off each other to see how well a "job club" like this would work. Long story short, I'm going to spearhead this project, the two people I met last week will be providing me with names and e-mail address so I can put together a mailing list, and the first meeting will likely be within the next couple of months, at the absolute latest.
Guys. You guys. I have never
done anything like this before. I wouldn't have minded if I helped
start something like this, but I didn't think I'd end up being, you know.....in charge
or anything. O_o; Still, I'm very excited about all this! This has the potential to turn into something really big, with multiple groups throughout the state or even a foray into activism. But of course, things like this have to start small and slow in the beginning, and it all depends on the needs of the people who actually show up. Oh man, I just really
hope this turns out well; after all, this has the potential of helping lots of people (including myself! XD) who otherwise wouldn't get it. Wish me luck! :D
(BTW, the guy who wrote the article I linked to above co-wrote a book called The Autism Job Club: The Neurodiverse Workforce in the New Normal of Employment
, which came out just last month. I read it last week and I highly recommend it! It's a great introduction into the issues autistic adults face when it comes to employment, and even if you're not autistic yourself, it still has a lot of intriguing [if depressing] information about the changing nature of employment in the U.S. in general -- namely, how a single, full-time job is becoming a thing of the past, and how most young people today will have to work multiple, short-term jobs throughout their "career.")
••• As far as the BRS stuff goes
, I finally managed to do a work evaluation!
That's the good news. The bad news is that it didn't go as well as I hoped.
I worked at the Meigs Point Nature Center
in Madison, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for the last three weeks in February, for a total of 40 hours. The job coach and I spent the first week learning about the animals that live there and how to take care of them -- feeding them, cleaning their cages, etc. It was actually quite interesting working with them, and by the end I was way
more comfortable handling the snakes, but after it was all said and done I realized it wasn't something I wanted to spend my life doing. (I kinda already knew that beforehand, but it was nice to know with absolute certainty. ^_^;) Most of the rest of the time was spent on my main project, which involved the educational programs they put together for school groups, kids' birthday parties, etc. There have a variety of "scripts" the people who work there use when they give their presentations, with talking points about the animals (or the habitats they live in) and how to demonstrate certain things to the kids; my job was to turn these scripts into outline form so it'd be easier for volunteers to learn, and to flesh them out with information we'd gather from the Internet.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it was, but it wasn't without problems. Editing the "scripts" was one of those projects they'd been meaning to do for a long
time now, but because there are only two paid employees there and they had their hands full actually running the place, it kept getting put off. Not that it was a big priority in the first place, if you think about it. And the director, who was otherwise very nice and helpful to us, wasn't clear at all about what it was exactly he wanted us to do or how to do it, which made me suspect he didn't know and couldn't be bothered to figure it out. After all, he had places to go and TV appearances to make, and he was so
laid-back and scatterbrained that it wasn't unusual for him to go a week or more without returning my job coach's phone calls. Not to mention the Internet connection at the place sucked, and the only other computer in the building we were allowed to use had no Internet access at all, so I had to go to my job coach's house nearby for a day to work. Eventually we figured something out, but I was still immensely
frustrated with the experience. It felt like I was just doing busy work rather than anything meaningful. Between that and the not-fun of working with the animals, it really soured me on having any sort of job at a nature center in general.
And that wasn't even the worst part of it all.
The Sunday after my first week there ended (the 15th), there was a big snowstorm that forced the center to close, and since they're normally closed on Mondays they were closed the next day too. That Sunday, a window in the main room blew out, causing the snow, wind, and cold to get inside and move tables, knock things over, etc. A pipe on the main floor also burst, which meant there was a little bit of flooding too. It wasn't until the director came in that Tuesday morning that anyone knew how bad things got.
24 animals died. 30 if you include the fish.
So not only did the director and his assistant have to deal with the fallout -- you could tell they were deeply affected by it because they had come to develop an affinity for those animals, and I can only imagine the responsibility they felt toward them -- but they also had to clean up as quickly as they could and pretend nothing ever happened. Most of the animals that died were rescues and rehabs with backstories, such as their unofficial mascot, a 46-year-old box turtle named Merlin who was hit by a car two decades ago. It certainly explains some of the director's scatterbrained-ness, at least, so I don't want to be too hard on the guy.
But the more I think of it, the more I think he acted somewhat irresponsibly by not doing enough to prevent it from happening. If you run a place where animals who can't fend for themselves live, and you need to close it down due to a snowstorm, the very least
you could do is have someone check in on them regularly to see if they're okay, or prevent more animals from getting hurt or killed in case of an accident. Hell, at the animal shelter near me, sometimes people will volunteer to be snowed in so that they can keep the pets safe. Or have the windows wired to an alarm in case they break, not just the doors, even if you have a tight budget. If part of the purpose of a nature center is to protect wild animals, you should, you know, protect them
Oh well. I did get to see wild harbor seals for the first time, though, and I got paid minimum wage for my time, so it wasn't a complete wash.
••• I still look for other jobs now and again, and I've managed to get a side gig!
Last November I applied for a work-from-home research assistant position at a place in New York called Outcast Films
, which distributes documentaries to the educational market, with an emphasis on connecting audiences directly with filmmakers. When I didn't hear back from them at first, I thought the job had already been filled or they didn't think I was qualified enough, because that's usually what happens when you don't get a reply to your application. But a month later, out of the blue the executive director e-mailed me, saying she got my application and was reviewing it. After another month without hearing back from her, I e-mailed a follow-up -- I really did
want this job because it seemed right up my alley, I could use the extra money, and it wasn't as if anyone told me no, right? XD I waited yet another
month before the ED replied back.
Two phone interviews and a Skype call later, and she wants to hire me! All I'm waiting on is the contract I'll need to sign to make it official, although my parents want me to see an attorney to look it over before I do. The ED has been very busy; the company started off as a distributor of LGBT films until the Internet made it easier for filmmakers to distribute their work directly to their audiences, so lately they've been doing some restructuring to stay in business. Plus, they're working on acquiring two more films, and the ED wants to acquire six films within the next six months. Once they get some new documentaries, my job will be to look for teachers, professors, libraries, etc. that might be interested in screening them. I'd also be writing one-page outlines called SWOTs, which stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities (Where would be the best places to screen this move? Who should we market this to?), and Trends/Threats (How "hot" is this topic? What competition does this film have?); I've already done one, which the ED was actually quite impressed with. :D
Once I start getting some work, I'd be working about five hours a week on an independent contractor basis, making $15/hour, and if I enjoy the job and the ED sees what I'm capable of, it might go up to 20 hours per week. She's really looking for someone who'll "grow with the company" because it's extremely small right now; I don't know how well I'd fit that expectation since I'm looking to get more work at my current job, but there's not much I can do about that right now except wait and see. I really hope it goes well. ^_^;
••• I've had a couple of other interviews as well
; some of them were for this place in New Haven called Next Step Living
, which conducts assessments of people's homes to see how they can become more eco-friendly and cheaper to maintain, and then sells solar panels, windows, HVAC systems, and anything else that would help with that. I really liked their business model, and I got excited because they were the first to reply to my application. But then I realized I had applied to, well.....sales jobs
. As in working on commission, long work weeks, weird hours, traveling long distances, and risking getting doors slammed in my face after showing up on people's doorsteps unannounced. Nope, I am not
cut out to sell my soul for that line of work. I still had two phone interviews and one in-person interview because, hey, I could use the practice, but I was okay when they told me I was passed up for the job.
I also had a Skype interview for an internship at a place in Massachusetts called the Dare Institute
, which does a lot of psychological research, especially involving autism. And that went somewhat.....bizarre, actually.
My interview was with the founder and co-director
-- if by "interview" you mean him rambling off-topic, dropping names and concepts I had never heard of left and right, and me hardly getting a word in edgewise. My job would've been to help market what they called a "developmental task sequence" to autism schools and centers around the country, and then collect the data from those who use it to see how well it works, and if it can be used to detect autism in infants and toddlers. It sounded vaguely interest, and I admit the prospect of having my name attached to a published academic paper was tempting, but the guy had a lot
of opinions that were stuck in the 1960s:
- He's spent so much of his long career working with autistic kids with severe symptoms and serious behavior issues, that I can't help but think it's colored his idea of what autism actually is. I don't doubt that consciously he knows autism is a spectrum disorder (meaning it manifests differently in everyone who has it), but anytime he mentioned autism, in the same breath he would talk about headbanging, violent behavior, criminal activity, etc. It's almost as if he felt a person severely impacted with autism automatically meant they were extremely unstable time bombs with very low IQs. Some fit that profile, but many don't.
- He thinks the term "developmentally disabled" is too "politically correct" and thinks "retarded," "slow," or "developmentally challenged" are more accurate descriptions. According to him, people with DD don't develop any differently than "normal" people, just slower than average, and it's ~~~very important~~~ to make sure they catch up. Because it's not like it's discriminatory to assume there's more than one "right" way for a person to develop or anything.
- Worst of all, he has a lot of connections with people who work at the Judge Rotenberg Center, and has done a lot of work in conjunction with them. For those of you who don't know, the JRC is a school in Massachusetts that treats students with emotional issues and DDs like autism; they're one of the few schools in the U.S. that use aversives to condition students to stop behaving in certain ways, and the only one that uses electric shocks on a person's skin as a form of punishment. Yes, "treatments" like this are still being practiced in 2015, and many disability advocates have tried for years to shut it down. Dr. Commons, however, thinks that skin shocks are more humane and ethical than medication, because medication can have severe side effects. Never mind, of course, that using skin shocks will likely give the student PTSD, and in order to treat that they'll probably have to take medication anyway. Then again, he's a very strict behaviorist a la B.F. Skinner, and applied behavior analysis as a treatment for autism is fraught with many, many problems.
After all this, I wouldn't have taken the internship anyway, but the fact that a.) it was unpaid, and b.) it would require me to actually be in Cambridge while doing it, made my decision a hell of a lot easier.
••• Last but not least
, since autism has come up so much in this entry, and because April is Autism Awareness Month (or Autism Acceptance Month, depending on who you talk to), I figured I might end this by sharing three articles about autism that I hope you'll find interesting:President Obama’s World Autism Awareness Day Proclamation Is Right OnAutism Awareness Month – Autism is More than Autism Speaks and Temple GrandinPayPal founder thinks people with Asperger’s have an advantage
And congratulations to all of you who made it this far. I told
you I had a lot going on! XD