Article: What’s working? Autistry Enterprises for employment

Posted By on April 30, 2011

by Dan Swearingen and Janet Lawson, MFT

The core mission of Autistry Studios is supporting the transition of ASD youth to whatever level of adult independence each individual is capable of achieving. Our Core Workshops and our new Drama Workshops prepare students for adult life by exercising and growing executive skills while building confidence and mental resiliency. These skills combined support real time decision-making and the ability to act on decisions – the abilities needed to successfully work and create.

The Thursday gang Our existing Core Workshops include a range of activities that could be characterized as going from “play” to “playful work.” Last year, as Autistry grew to including a growing adult student body we felt a need for more direct employment training: An employment program which could be thought of as picking up from “playful work” and transitioning into “realistic work.”

Importance of Work

Alex and IanMeaningful work is how we establish our identity, maintain our independence, and construct a real relationship with our community. Without appropriate opportunities to work our students are denied independence, denied an adult identity, and denied a real place in our community.

Building the ability to work is fundamental to fulfilling our mission supporting transition for ASD youth.

Our programs have always been driven by the needs of the students with whom we work. Our students today need initial work experience in safe situations where they can explore and learn initial job skills, practice social skills, and cultivate their work ethic.

Initial experiments

Our first experience providing work was to have students work extra hours doing chores around our workshop areas. This was a gentle extension of their normal workshop schedule. This succeeded to some extent but highlighted requirements a more robust program would need to meet:

  • Increased structure – more work hours per week.
  • A mix of routine: repeated tasks in which deep competency can be built up as well as unique tasks exercising problem solving skills.
  • Measured amounts of social interaction appropriate to the employee’s social skills.
  • Work objectives that are real and meaningful to the employees.

Our new employment programs for Q3-Q4 2011

Based on the lessons we have learned and to the extent that funding permits, we will be rolling out several internal direct employment businesses to which Autistry students would be eligible to apply starting summer of 2011.

In the past these internal businesses would have been called sheltered work programs but the current trend is to call programs like these Social Enterprises. This is a wide ranging term for any program that applies capitalistic strategies to achieving philanthropic goals. In our usage we will be calling these new Autistry Studios employment projects Autistry Enterprises.

The goal of the Autistry Enterprises is to set up a cluster of internal businesses that feed business to each other as well as outside businesses and customers much as a Japanese keiretsu (network of companies) functions.

Autistry Publishing

A couple of our students are in the process of writing books which will be published by Autistry Studios. In addition to the direct processes of producing content, digital textblock, illustrations, and actually printing books we will be handling ISBN registration and setting up sales and delivery channels.

This Autistry enterprise will feed business into Autistry IT (website, e-commerce, technical support) and Autistry Figures (figure from the books) – both described below.


Autistry Railroad

Foothill Station - FinallyThe Autistry RR will produce model structure kits in cut-and-fold, cast plaster, cast resin, and eventually laser-cut wood and plastic formats. This company will employ designers working on CAD systems, technical writers/illustrators making instruction material, workers producing and packaging kit materials while maintaining inventory, and workers handling and fulfilling orders.

This Autistry enterprise will feed business into Autistry Publishing (printed materials, packaging) and Autistry IT (website, e-commerce, technical support).

Autistry Figures

Picture 063Autistry Figures will produce customized figures in many formats. Some will be hand painted figures available commercially; others will be complete custom creations.

This Autistry enterprise will feed business into Autistry Publishing (printed materials, packaging) and Autistry IT (website, e-commerce, technical support).

Autistry IT

Adam booting his PC build projectAutistry IT will provide computer hardware and software support to Autistry Studios and Autistry Enterprises. It will produce and manage websites for all the Autistry activities including e-commerce capabilities.

Next Steps

We have the resources to start the Autistry Enterprises but they will need significant direct family support to grow to a point where they can provide paid employment.

[Updated 9/2/2013]

The Autistry Employment Program was launched as the Autistry Model Employment Program in June 2013.

About The Author

Dan is the Director of Studio Operations and co-founder of Autistry Studios which means that he's the guy who keeps everything working. Mechanical, Electrical, and Computational. In his spare time he teaches many "build stuff" workshops and if any time is left over after that he builds model trains or anything else he is momentarily interested in.