BRAWD AUTISTICO "A Contributing Member of Society"
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
“BUT WHAT DO THEY CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY?”
But what do they contribute to society?
Over the years, a handful of people have posed this question to me in discussion about autistic and ‘disabled’ people in general. I have always felt stumped, and a bit offended. It’s as though they are valuing someone’s life on how much tax they pay, what their occupation is, what their likelihood of reproducing for the sake of the survival of the human race is… and if it doesn’t fit the bill, then surely they can be nothing more than a burden?!
As such, I have decided to write about autistic people in the workplace, or those with special needs, in general. A quick Google search revealed an expectedly tongue-in-cheek debate on Quora (have a look at the references at the end if you want to have a look, but be warned- it’s not for the easily-offended) and a handful of interesting articles regarding the research and statistics involving handicapped people in the workforce (again, consult the references if you’re interested).
I also came across a very interesting article by a woman with a child with Downs Syndrome named ‘Ellen Stumbo’ (references; this isn’t even a suggestion-do it!) who seems to have had similar experiences. Here’s an extract:
“Once, I thought that having a child with Down syndrome would be a burden. I believed that being smart was one of the most important qualities to have. I found success defined by performance and maybe even a bank account. So I did not welcome my new baby with open arms and a cheerful heart.
The inevitable happened, I fell in love, madly in love with my child. In doing so, I changed, I recognized that the value of a child, of a life, of any person, is not found on what they can or cannot do.”
I worked in social care for many years, and almost every company I worked for carried a similar mission statement:
“We aim to provide a safe and constructive workplace environment for our individuals, where they can learn resilience and the skills needed to be as independent as possible. Through the use of engaging activities, we aim to give the individuals we support a meaningful life by helping them become contributing members of society who engage and integrate with the local community.”
So why the obsession with being “contributing members of society”, and what, exactly, does that entail?
Again, people on Quora have some interesting suggestions, but Wiki-How manages so sum up in four easy steps how one can take action if you’re worried that you, yourself, are not a contributing member of society:
1. By helping the people around you
2. Listen to the people in your daily life and show them empathy
3. Mentor a young person in your community to build their character
4. Volunteer at a community organisation to help others in society
Interestingly, none of the people whom have asked me the question regarding autistic people’s contribution to society have taken any of these actions- now I have my come-back!
So let’s look at the figures. More than two-thirds of autistic adults are either unemployed or underemployed. A survey on autistic people revealed that many able individuals struggle to find work because companies demand “previous experience and vocational training” which many lack, and that they often find that employers tend to react dramatically when approached by a person on the spectrum, turning them down because they “can’t accommodate their needs”. Those interviewed in the survey also reported that many employers “pigeon-hole” prospective employees too easily. In regards to people on the spectrum, they tend to assume that they’ll only be good at IT jobs and such, and not very good with people or customer service.
However, statistics show that people on the spectrum are actually more likely to work in other industries, with the top five being:
1. Administrative and support services
2. Education and training
3. Health care and social assistance
5. Scientific and technical services
Notice that ‘technical services’ is fifth on the list, and jobs involving customer service and contributing to people’s welfare, personal and educational development come before it- and there’s my second come-back!
Autistic people and professionals alike agree, however, that many people on the spectrum would require some form of additional needs in the workplace, but not all of them. However, many of these individuals would be able to thrive in a working environment- it would give them meaning and purpose. Sadly, it is more-so the case that companies are simply unwilling to accommodate them. In another survey, 70% of people with autism said that staff training is important in the workplace, but 45% of them did not feel the need to give autism awareness training to the other staff. One can only assume here, but I’d say that they most likely didn’t want to be ‘singled-out’, or create more of a ‘stigma’ about it, high-lighting it when there’s “no need to.” Interestingly, a third of them wouldn’t want increased or modified pay for being on the spectrum- again, assumedly not wanting to stand out, preferring to be “one of the team”, as it were. Around 40% of them said that their work life decreased their “life satisfaction”, but I wouldn’t over-think this one; 45% of the general population feels the same way.
A couple of posts ago, when discussing my brother’s time in education (BRAWD AUTISTICO “Special School”), I mentioned how my brother finished school on a Friday at nineteen and started work on Monday, with no gap year to “find himself” and no lad’s holiday in Shagaluf. If education and employment are anything to go by, then he’s an outstanding member of society!
Indeed, we were very lucky to have somewhere near home where my brother could work. Established in 1984, the organisation was formed through the combined efforts of a local businessman and supportive locals. By today, it is a leading social enterprise, providing employment and training opportunities for people with learning disabilities.
When it all started thirty-five years ago, such a charitable company was considered “pioneering’”. Up until then, people with disabilities could only seek employment in care or at special centres, but they proved that by giving those individuals a chance to work in the community, and thus serving the community, they can be seen to be equal citizens.
Over the years the company grew, and now employs around a hundred staff who support over sixty-five adults with learning disabilities. It is committed to promoting sustainable living, and protecting the natural environment and developing ‘green businesses’. On a larger scale, they aim to combine this vision with the concept of integrating people with learning difficulties into every aspect of their work. Such a great company, with a great mission statement, and right on our doorstep!
For years now, much like he did with school, my brother catches a ride to work in the mornings then back home again in the afternoon, five days a week. He stands around in his high-vis jacket and steel toe-caps, lunchbox in his hand. Of course, he can’t tell us what he thinks of his workplace, but he seems happy enough running off to the car when they come and pick him up… he ignores us completely if we ever take a walk down into the village and give him a surprise visit, again- much as he did at school.
He does a variety of jobs throughout the week, from working a shift at a recycling centre to sanding down old furniture for re-sale, helping out with the gardening (for the production of honey- yes, they have bees- and cider, and all manner of other produce, which they sell in their shop) and caring of various livestock, to helping out in the kitchen and the café. In fact, his job sounds quite lovely!
And just like they did back in 1984, the local community welcome the organisation with open arms, often frequenting the shop and the café, turning up to charity events and donating to the cause- even the local Chavs use the place as a drinking spot in the evenings!
I have rarely heard people being cruel to the people who work there, and accounts of vandalism are far and few between. Like I said- we were lucky!
They have recently built supported living lodges on site, meaning people with learning difficulties from the area can live as independently as they can, and remain in full-time employment, without having to move away.
I’m glad I covered this now, because I feel far more prepared for the next time someone asks me what my brother “does” for society; I can say he has been in education or full-time employment his entire life, that he works for an organisation intent on conserving the environment and fulfilling the lives of people with various disabilities, that he helps in the production of goods, and the distribution of said produce.
I can also say that the majority of autistic people want to be employed, but some companies are not prepared to hire them, that the majority of people on the spectrum choose to work in jobs whereby they help people, they don’t think they are entitled to anything and they’re just as happy doing it as we are!
And the money my brother gets from the government? Your hard-earned taxes? Goes straight back into the economy, just like anyone else’s wages or benefits.
Though it’s true my brother cannot actively listen to us or show much empathy and understanding, nor is he likely to ever mentor someone, but he does show us affection in his own special ways, and provides comfort in a way he will never know.
So how much does my brother contribute to society?
As much as the next guy, mate.
Thanks for reading.
I’m interested to hear if anyone else has had similar experiences, and to know what people’s views are on people with learning difficulties in the workforce…?
Also, how do you rate a person’s contribution to society, and do you consider yourself to be a contributing member of society?