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training newspaper headline - autistic individuals should stop looking for a job financial planning
  • Posted February 13, 2020

Individuals with Autism should STOP looking for a Job

If you are confused by the title – good! That means I successfully completed my goal. While the title was meant to grab your attention, it is not necessarily meant to be misleading. I have been giving lots of thought to employment, especially when it comes to individuals with ASD. I have read some thought-provoking research and talked to lots of individuals. While so many people have good intentions with what they are trying to do regarding employment and the spectrum, it seems to me that so many are just slightly missing the point.

I recognize that I personally have lower support needs (reminder to avoid functioning labels), it is important to remember that there are many individuals who have much higher support needs, and they cannot and should not be left behind.

Brief disclaimer – This article is written for anyone who cares about individuals with disabilities. I will likely use some language that some advocates may not approve of. Trying to appeal to a broader audience means that I need to use more conventional definitions of terms (like the language used by the IRS, Social Security, etc) and you will notice I do go back and forth. For everyone who has not read the Procedure and Operations Manual (POMS), please bear with me.

I was invited to a Transition Forum hosted by Autism Speaks to share my thoughts at a leadership summit. As so many newcomers are, I was unsure about working with Autism Speaks. And by newcomers – I mean anyone who starts researching ASD online. Due to my unease, I did not accept money offered for transportation and drove from Connecticut to D.C. (however, I happily accepted the drink vouchers). It was amazing to be surrounded by so many researchers, advocates and others, discussing the issues facing those with ASD and potential solutions from both within the organization and outside of it.  The subject that most time was spent on was transition from childhood services to adulthood without the same access and education. There were advocates and researchers from all ages and parts of the spectrum.

Of course, an important topic for transitioning to adulthood is employment, and although everyone there was well intentioned, I found that so many people with ideas were missing a key point. I remembered a good friend of mine back home – Smart and capable, and working a part-time job. I have full faith that this individual could and should be able to work a full-time job and have a successful career. However, one of the driving forces behind this person not doing so was fear of losing benefits.

This really got me thinking – what benefits is this individual getting that wouldn’t be replicated if they were to take a full-time position? I had heard and seen statistics that benefits could be worth up to $80,000 a year. I first had to determine if this was this a myth or was this reality? Were well-intentioned but poorly educated people spreading this fear, or was it actually true? At Planning Across the Spectrum, our primary mission is to help these individuals find benefits and resources that are appropriate for them as well as educate on financial management.

Unfortunately, after talking to many individuals we have found – it is not a myth. Many individuals are not taking full time jobs for fear of losing government benefits.  But, having employment doesn’t guarantee a loss of benefits, rather it means we should be working on a plan that can allow the benefits to be to continue to exist. what I encountered is when you start asking what benefits they are receiving you begin to realize that many individuals are not living to their full potential. In Connecticut alone there are a number of distinct programs, with different sets of rules, and of course because the government is involved, they play hide the ball on the rules.

For example, going back to my friend, one of her benefits through the state was a job coach. My first instinct is what do you need a job coach for if you have a job? Why can’t employers offer benefits that attract workers with Autism and who think outside the box? The short answer is because that is discrimination. Although I am oversimplifying some of the very complex Department of Labor and ERISA rules among many others. We can’t begin to try to hire workers with autism and other disabilities if there are not going to be workers who are going to take the jobs because of fear of losing benefits, then we need to take a fundamental look a the way we are recruiting and retaining neurodiverse talent.

We need to first do all the usual things that people are talking about, we need to change the hiring practices, we need to find jobs that fit, we need to make sure they are happy. We need to teach some skills. There is a lot of education is needed for employers and families. However this is also on the “lower support” needs individual and focusing mostly on the IT sector, (Special shout out to Spectrum Designs for doing so much more!)

We need to offer benefits to potential employees that allow flexibility. The great news is the current law allows for such flexibility, the downside is that this is a complicated area on its own, and even more complicated when you add the specialized benefits needed for individuals with disabilities.

Officially today, Planning Across the Spectrum is proud to launch our Employer Benefit Consulting Service. This is a service that is more than the traditional benefit consulting model. These are employee benefits for those with disabilities and who are neuro-diverse. Services include all of the traditional employee benefits that you would expect, but with a platform, products, and service that your employees will want, consulted by professionals who understands them on both personal and professional levels! We also have extensive research into how to customize all of your benefit programs from retirement plans, healthcare, life, and disability insurance in a way that is not only fair to all the employees you hire, but especially to those with receiving government benefits.

We will not only provide benefits counseling via tele-consult or the preferred method of communication, we will go over what the individual is receiving and why. We will coach them on the myths of their benefits they are receiving, and the hard facts from trusted experts on the reason that they are wanting to work. We will help develop and coordinate with these services. We will also advise on ways for them to retain their state/local/federal benefits and even highlight what benefits they may missing out on. We will create the perfect cocktail of benefits for your specific and unique needs. Please note this service will be available and encouraged for anyone starting a new profession, not just if your employer is working with us.

We want to help employ the underemployed workforce. It is wonderful if companies want to hire people, but it doesn’t matter if the value proposition has changed! We need to turn the tables. Insurance needs are vastly different, retirement needs are vastly different, and we are neglecting some of the most important “benefits” these individuals receive. We are not just talking about their work environment, but access to behaviorists and job coaching, their own benefit counseling. This is not just by the local investment advisor, but by specialized attorneys and benefits consultants who not just understand employee benefits, but also understand the individuals with unique needs.

We want to offer transportation services, housing services, and other services that are not necessarily more costly, just different! Individuals with special needs are different, not less, and we need to create a benefits package that attracts them the same way we create one for the top executives. This also includes helping individuals start there own business!

We are the source to make sure your talent or the talent you hire are getting exactly what they deserve.