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Jobs for Autistics in California: A Call for Strategies

Michael Bernick
Former California Employment Development Department Director & Milken Institute Fellow

This week’s F&H employment posting is a call for ideas
from California’s workforce  and
employment community. It arises from a long-running discussion with  Dr. Lou Vismara.

Dr. Lou is described by more than a few Sacramento
residents, following the well-known Dos Equis beer ad,  as the most interesting man in Sacramento,
due to his wide range of scientific, business and social endeavors  (see "Stay
thirsty my friends
").  A prominent
cardiologist, graduate of Stanford with an MD from Baylor College of Medicine, Dr.
Lou changed careers in 2000, a few years after his son Mark was diagnosed with
autism. Dr. Lou retired from interventional cardiology to work full-time on
child development and autism issues with the Office of the President of the
California Senate, where he continues today.

Dr. Lou works on a variety of health issues, but the
greatest part of his time is spent on autism in California, with the Senate
Select Committee on Autism and Related Disorders. Early childhood intervention,
K-12 education, and supportive housing 
are among the autism topics, but the main topic is becoming employment
for adults on the autistic spectrum. While major gains have been made over the
past decade in California on these other topics, employment has remained most
difficult to impact.

The Select Committee estimates that more than two-thirds of
adults on the autistic spectrum are unemployed. There does exist in California
a network of competent community-based agencies, led by the local ARCs, that
provide employment counseling and job placement assistance. Yet, these agencies
serve a relatively small proportion of the adult population with autism, and
even before the Great Recession were fighting and clawing for every job
placement.

Further, even the New York Times, which rarely
criticizes any government program, had a
front page article
last week, 
detailing the failure of the Social Security Administration’s main
employment initiative to make any dent in the rolls of workers with
disabilities receiving government benefits. In 2010, 8.2 million people
collected disabled worker benefits, up from 5 million a decade earlier.

Dr. Lou has put forward several extra-governmental approaches
related to employment. These approaches include  a
planned  community for persons with
autism
in the Sacramento region, and a business recognition and marketing
program for businesses employing persons with autism.  

My focus has been on extra-governmental approaches of mutual
support among members of California’s autism community-persons with autism,
their parents, relatives and friends. These mutual support approaches might  be autism job boards, autism job networks,
and/or identifying business lines that build on the strengths of persons with
autism. In my experience, the autism community in California must take the
lead.

In our discussion last week, Dr. Lou and I agreed that we
needed to reach out to others in the workforce community and autism community.
So Dr. Lou and I welcome your ideas of employment, e-mailed to michael.bernick@sdma.com and/or lou.vismara@sen.ca.gov. With your
permission, we will share with others, as we expand to a larger, more vibrant
and statewide on-line discussion of employment strategies.

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