Autistry Newsletter – December 26, 2016

| December 26, 2016

CLICK here for the March 2017 Newsletter!

In this strange lull between the Xmas holiday and New Year’s Day, we usually drift in nostalgia and reminisce about the past year’s activities and achievements. And though there have been many wonderful accomplishments this year, we find ourselves looking forward to 2017. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and take Autistry to the next level – opening the Autistry Comprehensive Adult Program, launching creative social enterprises, and creating a Mentor Training Program for professionals and families.

KBLX CaresLast week, Dan, Steven, and Janet were interviewed by radio host Sterling James for her KBLX Cares program. We were very impressed with Steven who insisted he was not articulate enough to be on the radio – and yet he spoke with eloquence and confidence. Steven graduated last year from Sonoma State University with a degree in Applied Mathematics. He is bright, funny, creative, and autistic. Listen for yourself!

In November, we wrote about the Saturday and Sunday Core Workshops. These workshops are for teenagers and are held on the weekend to not interfere with middle and high school schedules. The Thursday and Friday Core Workshops are for adults. Our adult students range in age from 19 to 50+. Their verbal ability ranges from virtually nonverbal to oh-my-God-please-be-quiet! How do we accommodate such a wide range of interests and abilities? By addressing each individual’s needs and connecting with each individual’s interests. We challenge our students to expand their capabilities and we challenge ourselves to be open to learning new skills with our students.

coral reefThe range of projects is a reflection of the range of interests. Danielle is creating mixed media pieces. She has learned to use the laser cutter to create complex shapes and she also incorporated her love of double spiral lanyards. The lanyards became a coral reef and the perfect environment for a clown fish.

 

ComicLIfeSeveral of our students are expanding their storytelling ability with ComicLife. This simple-to-use software program allows them to create visual narratives and add short descriptions and dialogue.

Creating comics gives those with limited verbal ability the opportunity to share their stories. It also encourages the development of vocabulary, perspective-taking, and organization. Over time these stories become more and more complex and lead to stop-motion animation.

nat and allieStop-motion is a wonderful way to experience drama. The process can be tedious but the rewards are great. Over the years students have created several films incorporating stop-motion elements or entirely done as stop-motion pieces: Screaming Eggs, Ian and Reed Juggle a Star, Fish Hook, Thomas the Tank Engine (test), and Alphabet Mission to Mars!

We currently have a GoFundMe campaign raising funds to upgrade our animation tools: www.GoFundMe.com/autistry

006Some of our students are already fine writers. On Friday, Gabrielle Haggett-Molina facilitates the Autistry World group. The Autistry World Group is the creation of Sara Gardner, LMFT our Clinical Director. She felt that the inner-worlds of our students needed an outlet and peer support. Each member of this group is creating a unique imaginary world. Their projects can be novels, board games, video games, graphic novels, or even blogs. They share their works-in-progress with each other in group and also online throughout the week.

Several of our adult students are taking college courses and we will be expanding our college support services in 2017. One of the most important lessons we have learned over these last 8.5 years is that everyone, autistics included, when given the opportunity will continue to grow and learn throughout their lives. At Autistry we are firm believers in lifelong learning.

Father and Son2Our adult students (and our teens!) need employment experience. We are reaching out to the community to find appropriate opportunities but we also realize the need for creating those opportunities. Dan recently posted a blog about social enterprises and how they can offer hands-on experience to autistic individuals. In 2017 we will launch a couple of light-manufacturing social enterprises. These will offer experience designing, building, and marketing products to the public.

Wow – there is a lot of work ahead
. Please consider a donation to help us fulfill our goals and enrich and empower the autistic community. More information is available on our Donation page.

We look forward to connecting with you all in 2017!

-Janet, Dan, Sara, Allison, Gabrielle, Matt, Nghi, Bryant, and James

Social Enterprises as a solution for employment of autistic youth

| December 14, 2016

In his December 13, 2016 Forbes blog post Michael Bernick, former California labor department director gives a good overview of the employment situation for those on the autism spectrum. At Autistry we have been working on employment for our students for many years and know how difficult it is to find good solutions for them. In our experience with the different types of employment situations we conclude that Social Enterprises provide the most robust solution for the largest number of autistic individuals.

Father and son

Bernick identifies three main types of employment opportunities:

1. “Autism at Work” and other targeted hiring and retention efforts by large employers.
Companies such as Microsoft and Salesforce have initiatives to provide employment opportunities in support staff as well as staff for their primary business.

2. Autism-focused businesses.
Also known as Social Enterprises (and in the past “sheltered employment”) these would be businesses formed with the intention of providing employment opportunities.

3. Self-employment and internet-based creative collectives.
These are programs to enable individuals to start their own businesses as well as systems that support individuals marketing their own creations as a way to earn a living.

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No small business solutions – yet

Bernick makes no mention of employment at small local businesses and we think he was right to omit them. Small businesses are a large share of the employment picture and their small size can be good for autistic employees. However, we have found it nearly impossible to chisel out a spot in any local business that is both good for the individual and good (profitable) for the local business. The reality is most individuals who need services also need significant support to work. Small businesses can’t afford the required support and there are no programs that provide that kind of support over the multi-year timeframe we find is required.

Unicorns and other legends of long term employment at local businesses

Yes, we know of some people who have had jobs with local businesses, sometimes for many years. On examination these are all very special cases. There is usually continuous family support and/or the personal involvement of a key business owner. When it works, these situations are utopian. But they suffer from being exceedingly fragile. We have had many students come to us after having been ejected from an employment situation that might have been stable for years but could not weather very typical changes: Owners and family members providing support age and die. Businesses change, change owners, or fail. For every one student in a special job at a local business, I have twenty or thirty we cannot place. Without special financial incentives and robust support, we do not see local businesses being able to scale employment in numbers large enough to solve the employment challenge.

The Big Business model

Large employers like Microsoft can and do provide programs supporting employment for autistics. Within this are generally two tiers of employment. On one tier are support jobs like food services, janitorial, office supply and office management and these can be accessible to the most impaired individuals. On the next tier are jobs related to the core business function of the company. These higher level jobs are accessible only to the most talented, least impaired individuals. At Microsoft these would be jobs as programmers with additional support. Our main concern is that these initiatives can survive only as long as the business can sustain them and might be vulnerable to changes in business climate. Another issue is that for the support jobs any migration to higher level jobs within the company can be difficult or impossible.

lauren learning

Self-employment initiatives and crafts marketplaces

The idea that many or most autistic individuals can run their own business and make a living is a beautiful idea that does have any basis in reality. Just because autistics can be bossy, it does not follow that they should be bosses. Just because many might prefer to work alone, it does not follow they should be sole proprietors. Most NTs (NeuroTypicals) are not capable of running their own businesses. Most NTs spend their entire lives as employees of businesses they do not own or run. Even without the added complication of being autistic the ability to be a successful entrepreneur is rare. Individuals capable of running their own business should certainly be supported but like employment at small local businesses, we do not feel this solution scales to the number of individuals who need employment.

The best solution: Social Enterprises

Paraphrasing Churchill: Creating small businesses specifically to provide employment is not a great solution, except when compared to all the other ways that have been tried.

An example of a social enterprise that Autistry Studios could create would be a light manufacturing business making products such as small furniture items out of wood, model kits produced on machines like our laser cutters and 3D printers, and textile products sewn by student/employees. Because our goal is interesting products that provide good employment we can and will migrate through many different product ideas and types. Depending on a student/employee’s ability they could hold any one of many jobs within this manufacturing organization: product design, marketing, sales, production, customer service, … For the most capable employees these jobs can be short term jobs providing training and experience towards independent employment. For the more impaired they can spend as much time as they need growing in skills and experience until they can leave to work independently. For the most impaired this would be a stimulating and productive way for them to spend their time.

We feel Social Enterprises (SEs) are the best and most flexible solution to the employment problem for autistic youth. They can be scaled to employ large numbers of individuals and there is every indication that the number of autistics entering adulthood is growing. Social Enterprises offer support across the spectrum and create meaningful employment for all levels of ability.

Related articles on our work program experiments and experiences:
December 2013 Autistry wins grant for employment program
April 2011 Article: What’s working? Autistry Enterprises for employment

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We are parents of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and professionals who chose to immerse ourselves in working with this population. We will often use “autistic” to mean either “symptoms of the diagnosis of autism” or “a person with the diagnosis of autism.” Similarly we will use ASD to mean either “Autism Spectrum Disorder” or “a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder” or “autistic.” One of the authors (Daniel) has Asperger’s Syndrome and we will often use “Aspergers” or “aspie” to refer to individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. We often refer to our “clients” as “students” and use the terms interchangeably.