While the calendar turns to May and away from April’s focus as Autism Awareness Month, awareness must turn to the limited job opportunities that those living with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) face year-round.  Ninety percent of individuals with ASD are either unemployed or underemployed. In California, only six out of every 100 young adults with ASD have any form of competitive employment.

Nevertheless, there is encouraging news. Employers are becoming aware of how they can provide support to students with autism. Assembly Bill 2840 seeks to provide funding from the state to support programs that educate employers on hiring students with disabilities.   

Last year, my employer, Eskaton, launched a program with several workforce development partners to provide job skill training to young adults living with autism. In addition, this effort provided socialization and mentoring along with uniquely special opportunities to engage with seniors.

Close to half of all seniors experience loneliness, according to a University of California, San Francisco study. Similarly, it is well-documented that those with ASD tend to be isolated and can be lonely as well.  Bringing these two groups together offers an inspiring solution. The potential to build strong relationships, which benefits both seniors and young adults with ASD, is clear.

The senior care industry as a whole is challenged to hire and keep skilled labor, and within the next few decades will need two million new workers in the United States. Eskaton is helping to train new workers in Northern California, specifically students on the spectrum.

One of our current most successful partnerships is with Meristem, a program in Sacramento that helps high-functioning students with autism become more independent, confident and prepared. Eskaton is happy to welcome Meristem students to uplift exercise sessions, assist with receptionist duties and strengthen gardening efforts.

Autism diagnosis rates are skyrocketing. According to the to the CDC,  not only have rates increased more than 300 percent, they are expected to rise 1292 percent by 2020.  Therefore, it is imperative that individuals and families with autism receive support along with employers who see the benefit and appreciate the value of the work that these individuals provide.

Autonomy, competence, and relatedness are suggested as the three basic qualities necessary for people to find motivation and happiness.  This theory known as the Self-determination Theory  was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, famed psychology professors at the University of Rochester. Through programs with employers like Eskaton and additional investment from the State of California, these qualities will be cultivated and ultimately help students living with autism flourish.

As taxpayers, employers and citizens of California, the vision to provide support and pathways for those living with ASD to reach their full potential and to meet the critical needs of a crying out labor force should inspire us.

I am encouraged to see a state proposal making its way through the legislative process, authored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio that will help train employers on how best to work with individuals with ASD. This manual for employers is an encouraging step to help individuals living with autism garner and retain long-term employment. The layers of mutually beneficial solutions are compelling and hopeful.