Most parents worry about what will happen to their children if something happens to them.  This concern fades over time, as their children reach adulthood and become self-sufficient.  Part of self-sufficiency is the ability to earn an income to support ourselves.  As a parent of a four-year-old little girl diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I know that if the current paradigm is maintained, I may never have the peace of mind that other parents feel when their children become self-sufficient adults.

Why?  Because people diagnosed with ASD have an unemployment rate of 85%, even among the college-educated.

For a time, I wrestled with whether I should discuss my daughter in my advocacy efforts.  This is because I have been told by some professionals that she will likely “outgrow” her diagnosis, which doesn’t mean that the autism is gone.  It just means that she is high-functioning, to begin with, and she will likely overcome her deficits to a point that her diagnosis will not be apparent anymore.  In other words, she might be able to “pass” as neurotypical.  I wondered if I should be taking this option away from her.  It’s her diagnosis, and it’s her life. 

In the end, I decided that she would probably be ok with it.  She is so loving and full of empathy.  (It is a common misconception that people diagnosed with ASD lack empathy, which is unfortunately perpetuated even by professionals who don’t seem to know any better).  I believe that she will understand my motive to make the world better for her, for other individuals with ASD, and also for individuals with other disabilities. 

The other reason is that I believe that she should not have to try to “pass” for neurotypical.  This is similar to people of certain races feeling pressure to “pass” for another race.  The difference is that ASD is an invisible disability, because of which people are being discriminated against, yet equally unable to control.

Unemployment of disabled people, including those diagnosed with ASD, is a civil rights issue that must be addressed as such.  Right now, discrimination against people with disabilities is happening on a daily basis.  One aspect of this is that people with disabilities are fearful of disclosing their condition when applying for jobs.  This is due to the very real possibility that their applications will be tossed aside because some hiring managers don’t want to deal with the “hassle” of making accommodations.  Of course, other reasons will be cited as justification. 

Because of this, many people with ASD do not want to disclose their condition.  Then, they go into interview situations exhibiting certain behaviors that are not understood by people who are uninformed about what ASD looks like.  Consequently, they are rejected.  It’s a damned if you do, and damned if you don’t scenario.

To give this situation historical context, it wasn’t until 1975, with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), that the right for handicapped children to receive an education was made into law.  Prior to this, disabled children were not allowed at school.  Since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, the requirement has been set that children be placed in the least restrictive environment (meaning that children with disabilities should be placed into classes with typical peers whenever possible).  In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990.  This legislation provides people with disabilities protection from discrimination in employment.

The legislation protecting the equal treatment of people with disabilities has been in place for decades.  It’s time for employers to stop viewing these laws as optional and to stop treating people with disabilities as second class citizens.  Is it really that hard for us to be more accepting of difference among people?  The vast majority of people are trying to live our lives the best way we can…. trying to make our way in a world that can be unforgiving of differences. 

This doesn’t have to continue.  We can all reach inside of ourselves and commit to being more accepting of, and even delight in, the differences among us all.  We can all make a commitment to accepting our responsibility as individuals for making the world more just.  And part of this is making employment accessible to people with disabilities, so that they may be fully participating members of society.

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