Author’s note: April is Autism Awareness Month. This is the second in a series of posts that will appear this month to note this observance.
By Kim Cordingly and Melanie Whetzel, lead consultants with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) – http://www.jan.wvu.edu — a leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. This is a condensed version of an article that appeared in the April 2015 issue of Job Training & Placement Report – http://www.impact-publications.com
Self-employment can be a viable option for individuals with disabilities, including autism. Self-employment or starting a small business offers an inherently customized alternative to integrated competitive employment – one which offers flexibility and creativity – where accommodations can be “built into” the design of a business. This empowers individuals to build on their strengths. The following is one such example.
* Joseph – Joseph’s mother contacted us requesting information to help her son with his business. During high school, he was introduced to photography, and this employment interest was included in his transition plan. She described photography as changing his life. He was particularly enthused about nature photography and had begun selling his photographs.
Joseph’s mother had been purchasing his photography equipment for him, but could no longer afford to do so. In order to make this business more sustainable, she wanted her son to develop a mentor network. He was very anxious interacting with people outside of his limited group. He resisted meeting with a counselor or mentor.
Self-employment suggestions: We provided information on various financing options; information on Social Security work incentives and benefits planning; and identified possible mentoring sources. We also discussed the merits of assembling a team to support him.
His mother suggested this team would be essential to moving forward. Because he was so invested in ownership of the business, she felt this would help overcome his resistance to expanding his network. Her dual focus in contacting us was to help her son make his business successful.
Accommodation suggestions: One strategy to improve Joseph’s comfort level with others was to bring in a new person while meeting with trusted individuals, and slowly fade out the presence of his “old” team as a new one became viable, adding new members at a rate that works for Joseph.
To increase his comfort level and allow for more participation, Joseph could attend meetings via Skype, FaceTime, chats, and the telephone, and he would be provided with an agenda prior to meetings. Meeting in alternate settings may help alleviate Joseph’s sensory issues.
While JAN does not provide case management services, consultants regularly receive formal and informal feedback to ensure that the assistance and resources we provided enabled individuals with disabilities to successfully move forward with their chosen employment goal.
Might self-employment work for an individual YOU KNOW who has autism? * This was an actual JAN situation; however, to protect individual confidentiality pseudonyms were used and identifiable information was changed.