I just read an article in the Columbus Dispatch about young people with Asperger's struggling to find and keep employment (I've included the text of the article below.) This article really saddens me because it's the same thing I went through at their age (although I was applying for lower level jobs and was a high-school drop-out.) Our education levels may be different, but the story is the same: deficient social skills keep these young people from meeting their potential.
My own experience was that it was easy to land jobs. I worked as a dishwasher, a short-order cook, did data entry, hot-walked horses, babysat, recorded books for the blind, checked hand stamps at the door of a bar, worked as a restroom attendant, dealt pretend poker in a bar, measured and cut electrical cables, packed girl scout awards in boxes for shipping, conducted telephone surveys, waited tables, cut sprue off plastic pieces in a factory, ran the cash register at a convenience store, worked as a receptionist . . . I was able to interview well enough to get all of these jobs. I was not able to maintain enough "normalcy" to keep them. None of my jobs ever lasted a full month. Most lasted two weeks.
I was a hard worker, showed up for work every day, on time, learned my responsibilities quickly, took pride in doing a good and thorough job. But there was always that "something" that made employers not want to keep me. In 1994, the new revision of the DSM included a condition called Asperger's Syndrome. In the sixteen years since then, awareness of the condition has been steadily growing. I had thought that the workplace experience would be different now for those young adults who grew up knowing about their Asperger's, learning how to self-advocate, and entering the workforce in a world where it seems now that nearly everyone has heard of this condition. Apparently, I was mistaken.
Even Vocational Rehabilitation, as described in the article below, is still doing the same dance number now that they were doing before they'd heard of Asperger's. I went to Voc Rehab in 1993 to try to get some help. After conducting many different types of tests, I was told, "you are very intelligent and very complex. We can't help you now but if you go through about five years of therapy, you can come back and try us again." Later, after I'd been diagnosed with Asperger's and had time to research my condition, I learned that it's very common for people with Asperger's to test as schizoid personality disorder or other illnesses on the MMPI. In the days before mental health professionals knew about Asperger's, we were commonly misdiagnosed as being schizophrenic. There are many conditions that Asperger's almost appears to be if one is examining it with a trained eye but no knowledge of Asperger's. Like many people of my generation with Asperger's, I have a string of half-fitting misdiagnoses trailing off behind me into my past.
I thought it would be better now that Voc Rehab counselors must know about Asperger's. But the description in the article below of Chelsea's encounter with Vocational Rehabilitation doesn't sound significantly different from my own. This is greatly disheartening. Articles like this feed into my insecurities: here I am, working my way toward a doctorate degree. Am I kidding myself that I will be able to do anything with it? I was basically diagnosed Asperger's and then cut loose to make what I could of my new self-information. I desperately need life skills coaching from someone trained and experienced in working with adults with Asperger's (I've learned, painfully, over the years that those who aren't trained in Asperger's tend inadvertently to cause far more damage than assistance when they try to work with me) but Medicaid doesn't cover that sort of service and all the providers I've found are very expensive. Ironically, I can't afford the training I need to be able to secure a job with a high enough income to afford the training I need to be able to secure a job. To say that I am apprehensive about graduation is an understatement.
Okay, so the professionals have re-discovered Asperger's Syndrome. They are studying it and releasing new research results every month. Television series on major networks have had recurring characters with Asperger's Syndrome (however poorly rendered those characters may have been) so AS has attained some sort of "trendy awareness" like ADD had a couple of decades ago -- "everyone" has heard of it by now. Why aren't we any farther ahead than we were two decades ago when no one in the English-speaking world had heard of Asperger's and those of us living with it were floundering and drowning once we hit adulthood?
What can we do to fix this problem?( Young adults with Asperger's syndrome struggle to find jobsCollapse )