April is Autism Awareness Month. Since autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the U.S., and it is becoming a crucial employment topic, this blog will note this observance with several posts this week.

Is the Workplace Ready for More Adults with Autism?

By Scott Standifer

One of my childhood nursery rhyme books contains a snippet of an odd poem – “Fairies”, by William Allingham (1824-1889):

 Up the airy mountain

Down the rushy glen

We daren’t go a-hunting

For fear of little men

The literal meaning of the poem is a warning about the capricious fairies of Irish legend – the pesky, cranky kind that tips over stone walls, and makes you lose your way in the woods.

The metaphorical meaning of the poem, for me, describes how we sometimes limit our lives through fear. The narrator and his friends need to hunt for food, but their imaginations populate certain unfamiliar places with malicious little men. They dare not go. Most of us have times when we, too, avoid new or unaccustomed things because of imagined bad things that might result – our own fear of little men.

A recent interview with Andy Traub, Director of Recruitment at AMC Entertainment, brought to mind these pesky little men. Traub headed up development of AMC’s innovative “FOCUS” autism employment program in 2010-2011. The program was a collaborative effort between AMC and the Autism Society, and it has been a remarkable, although relatively unknown, success. The FOCUS program is making autism (and disability) employment an established part of workplace culture in AMC Theatres nationwide.

Traub says that, before the FOCUS program, their corporate policy on disabilities centered entirely on ADA compliance and could be summed up as, “Here’s the law – don’t get us sued.” In other words, their reasoning was: so far they had been ADA compliant, but dramatically new activities around disability employment needed to be carefully considered in terms of ADA. This was their fear of little men. (Let me be clear: The “little men” in my metaphor are the imagined penalties or lawsuits, and NOT people with autism.)

Deb Russell, a manager in Walgreens Diversity and Inclusion Division, says, “I think all major corporations, especially federal contractors, are in the same boat. Compliance is the lowest common denominator.”

Tuesday, April 3:  The Spark to Move Forward

Wednesday, April 4:  Autism Employment Programs Increasing

For more information about most of these employment projects and autism employment statistics, see the Autism Works National Conference page on Facebook or at http://dps.missouri.edu/Autism/AutismConf.html  information about the Direct Employers Association, http://directemployers.org and the Autism Employment Forum sponsored by 3M, Cargill, and Best Buy: www.ausm.org Dr. Scott Standifer is the author of “Adult Autism & Employment: A guide for vocational rehabilitation professionals” and the organizer of the Autism Works National Conference held each year in St. Louis, MO. He is the Assistant Director of the Region 7 TACE Center in the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri.  http://dps.missouri.edu He can be reached at standifers@health.missouri.edu.   Note: Watch for Dr. Standifer’s article in its entirety, as well as other articles on autism, in the April issue of Job Training and Placement Report. To subscribe or for more information, visit the JTPR link at www.impact-publications.com   Additional links include: “How Autism Works”,  www.autismnovascotia.ca     and Autism Seen as Asset in Workplace,  www.autisable.com