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Daren Howard, the Deputy Director at The Autism Society of Minnesota, will join Philip to discuss the employment landscape for Autistic Adults. The conversation will cover effective strategies for job seekers, the push to eliminate subminimum wages, and securing accommodations from employers. The dialogue will extend to promising practices in recruiting and selecting Neurodiverse talent, as well as the rights and responsibilities of Neurodiverse individuals in the workplace.
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Details & Practices for Employment for Autistic Adults
Guest: Daren Howard
January 7th, 2024
Welcome everyone to Today’s Autistic Moment: A Podcast for Autistic Adults by an Autistic Adult. My name is Philip King-Lowe. I am the owner, producer, and host; and I am an Autistic Adult. Thank you so very much for listening.
Today’s Autistic Moment is a member of The Autistic Podcasters Network.
Explore, Engage, Empower: Today’s Autistic Moment-The Podcast for Intersectional Autistic Adult Communities
This first segment of Today’s Autistic Moment is sponsored by The Autism Society of Minnesota, known as AuSM throughout Minnesota’s Autism community. As Minnesota’s First Autism Resource for more than 50 years, AuSM serves the whole state, the whole spectrum, for the whole life. Visit AuSM online at ausm.org.
Thank you for joining me for the Season 4 premiere: Details & Practices for Autistic Adults to be Employed. Daren Howard is my guest for this show.
Please visit todaysautisticmoment.com where you can listen to the podcast, get transcripts, program updates, and read the guest bios pages. Please visit the Future Shows Page to read the titles, guests, and descriptions of all shows coming up through February. The transcripts are sponsored by Minnesota Independence College & Community. The transcripts can be read and followed from the website. There is a link provided to get access to a document form of the transcript so that you can print it, so it won’t use up the ink on your printer. The written document has a font that is accessible for dyslexics. While visiting the website, please consider supporting the work of Today’s Autistic Moment with a financial donation or purchase an item from the Logo Shop.
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The first episode of Autistic Voices Roundtable Discussions: Celebrating Intersectional Autistic Lives in 2024 will be on Wednesday, February 21st at 2:00pm Central Standard Time. The roundtable discussion topic will be Respect for Autistic Autonomy. Exploring the importance of autonomy for Autistic individuals, our diverse panel will discuss how decisions affecting health, careers, clothing, food, living conditions and social interactions often neglect our preferences. Join us for a meaningful conversation on why respecting Autistic autonomy is crucial, the role neurotypical people play or should be playing in fostering understanding and support. If you want to be a panelist, send an email to email@example.com by Friday, January 19th. The panel will comprise six Autistic individuals, chosen based on expressed interest, representation from diverse intersectional communities, and availability. Alternates will be chosen in case selected panelists can’t participate on the scheduled date, emphasizing inclusivity in our discussion.
As we start a New Year and a new season, I feel that it is important for me to say that Today’s Autistic Moment focuses on Autistic Adults, not Autism. When we talk about Autistic people of any age, we are talking about the person, not the “condition.” If we talk about Autism by itself, it feeds the “Autism is a disorder” climate. It is the Autistic Adults that are affected by the stigmas and sufferings because of the medical model of Autism. By concentrating on Autistic Adults, I am giving them an opportunity to talk about how we live into our identity. And I believe that is the most important thing we need to do. Among the things my guests and I have been emphasizing over the past three years is that the Autistic communities intersect with other communities of different races, age groups, sexual orientations, genders, gender identities, gender expressions, cultures, experiences, and outcomes. And that is why this is the podcast for Intersectional Autistic Adult Communities.
In the upcoming conversation, Daren Howard, an Autistic Adult and the Deputy Director at The Autism Society of Minnesota, will delve into comprehensive insights on employment considerations for Autistic Adults. Serving as the human resource manager at AuSM, Daren’s dual role in a Neuro-Affirming workplace environment adds a distinctive perspective. Unlike other discussions led by professionals less familiar with the diverse experiences of Autism, Daren, equipped with a Master’s Degree in business and extensive non-profit experience, is well-suited to offer valuable insights. The dialogue will cover essential topics such as understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act, securing workplace accommodations, and providing practical advice for Autistic Adults navigating interviews. Moreover, Daren will share tips for employers aiming to create supportive environments for their Neurodivergent employees. The emphasis on fostering a Neuro-Affirming workplace underscores the importance of inclusivity in professional settings. The conversation is poised to provide actionable strategies and practices for both Autistic individuals and employers, making it a valuable realm of Neurodiversity and employment.
This first show for 2024 is a bit longer than the average episode, because of the wealth of information that Daren will provide you with today. If you find yourself overwhelmed, you can always find a place in the show to book mark for yourself to stop and come back to listen to the rest of the show later on.
I also want to prepare you for one point that Daren is going to make that could be misunderstood. When you hear Daren mention that there are those who might perceive him as high functioning, he is not at all saying that he approves of it. In fact, immediately after he will explain why he does not support the use of functioning labels. And for the record, Today’s Autistic Moment does not promote or accept the use of functioning labels for any reason. Please see the do’s and don’ts’s page on todaysautisticmoment.com for a more detailed explanation.
After this first commercial break, Daren Howard and I will begin our exciting and informative conversation about Details & Practices for Autistic Adults to be Employed.
Commercial Break I
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Thank you for listening to Today’s Autistic Moment.
Well, Daren Howard, Happy New Year, and it's great to have you on as my first guest in 2024. So welcome back.
Happy New Year, Philip, it's an honor to be the first guest of the year.
Thank you. Thank you. Well, we are bringing a very important topic here today, the Details and Practices for Autistic Adults to be Employed. Samuel J. Levine, back in 2021. noted, what we are, we all know is that how many Autistic Adults are unemployed or underemployed. And therefore, employment is one of the key areas where Autistic Adults face the worst discrimination, we face a lot of obstacles in those circumstances. And it is widespread, it is not, you know, often misunderstood as to how many of us are unemployed or under employed. So, I'm grateful that you've come here today to kind of put a little bit of a positive spin on that subject, which is so very important. So, where can we begin to explore the details and practices for Autistic Adults to be employed and how this affects our intersectional communities?
Yeah, well, thank you for having me. This is this is a special interest area of mine, in part because I employ a number of Autistic Adults. And because I'm an Autistic Adult in the workforce. And in part, because I actually spent some time in grad school focusing on human resources issues. So maybe a little bit of personal context and qualification as we go in to the conversation. For listeners that don't know, I'm the Deputy Director of The Autism Society in Minnesota. I've been in that role for about a year. So now all of a sudden, everybody expects me to know what I'm doing. So, I'm doing my best. But one of the things that brought me to that role, besides being an Autistic Adult is a career in nonprofit settings. But earlier in my career in nonprofit settings, I sort of looked at the typical wages in that space and thought, you know, maybe I should pursue a career in business. So I went to school, and I got my Masters in Business Administration. But I emphasized Human Resource Management in that study. Because that seemed like it best aligned with my skills and experience and interest areas. So, I think that I'm informed enough about the HR function to be annoying. And equipped enough to do my job. But I'm also informed enough to know how much I don't know. Right? So, with that caveat, I think here's the landscape, as I see it. As you said in the intro, perhaps even a majority, quite a few Autistic Adults are unemployed or underemployed. A lot of this comes from myths and misunderstandings and even misinformation about Autism in general. So, if Autism is misunderstood, to be a condition that only affects little white boys who doesn't fit that criteria? Their role as a disabled person might not be easily identified. Even when we can do fit you know, I'm a white male. So, as I do fit that aspects of that criteria, I might be infantilized by somebody, in Autism and assuming that all Autistic people, for example, have intellectual and developmental disabilities. And to be clear, intellectual, and developmental disabilities are a common co-occurrence with Autism, maybe as much as 30% of folks who are Autistic might have intellectual disabilities. But it is not a uniform occurrence in any way. There are also, people with higher-than-average intelligence, there are lots of people with typical intelligence and development. Autism is not an intelligence issue. So, with those misunderstandings, employers or potential employers are not well equipped to even evaluate Autistic candidates for employment.
Yeah, especially where another point that Samuel J. Levine made a few years ago, too, was that a lot of human resource departments, their focus is on getting people employed, and they may or may not know exactly what's going on in the company. But their main purpose is to do human resources, which includes conducting interviews and, and, you know, a lot of pre-employment screening. And so, you know, I want to refer to this article that I passed you last month because I was so glad to see this. Jaime A. Heidel, who was The Articulate Autistic, and I do mean, The Articulate Autistic, is a prolific writer. And there was this article that she wrote, actually last June, about Why Pre-Employment Personality Tests Exclude Autistic Candidates. I know all about that, because before I decided to be self-employed, I did a lot of those. And almost every time I did them, I was not a suitable candidate to be hired. Jamie's explanation is that it rules out a lot of us Autistics, because it shows that they're looking for somebody who may not be so rigid in their way of doing things, or someone who has a personality that can be, of course, do a good, you know, interaction with customers and that sort of thing. And, of course, a lot of Autistic Adults, that's where our greatest challenges are. So, I really liked that, that article. And I think it speaks very well to what a lot of our challenges are. So go ahead and take off on that if you will.
Yeah, I absolutely agree. Pre-employment tests do not favor Autistic candidates, but I think we should maybe begin the conversation about pre-employment tests with acknowledging their function in the recruitment and selection process. Please do that. Yeah, pre-employment tests are often used by companies or government agencies that get a large number of applicants, and they are seeking to use a tool that is passive on their part. To eliminate a large number of applicants. The function of the selection process at every single stage is not to find the best person for the job. That's a common misunderstanding. The function of the selection process is to eliminate candidates who are not the best person for the job. That sort of backwards, neurotypical thinking can be really frustrating. But if you've got 1000 job applicants, it's not possible to interview them or phone screen them and you need some tools like qualification criteria. You know, maybe this position requires a bachelor's degree or something to screen out a number of candidates to ensure that you've got the most highly qualified candidates. That makes sense, but it's not effective. So, I understand the incentive that a company has to screen out a large number of candidates so that they can spend time looking at candidates that best. But these pre-employment tests are screening out candidates for the wrong reasons. In actually that I mentioned an offhand example, requiring a college education as a criteria for a position. There are certainly some positions that that's justifiable, for example, teaching college students, you should have completed a college education in order to teach college students. But most of the time that bachelor's degree requirement is actually just a way to discriminate against people who are who are from marginalized backgrounds who have less access to college education. So, pre-employment test does the same thing. It discriminates against respondents that don't know how to respond in the way that the test is seeking. What's important here is that Autistic people, I think it's a generalization. But Autistic people answer questions, honestly, a lot of the time. Pre-employment tests are not looking for honest answers. They're looking for people who will answer the way that they think the makers of the test want them to answer. For example, you might use a pre-employment test to rule out people prone to crime, in a position handling money, that might be logical. The problem is a person prone to committing crimes of a financial nature knows enough to lie about that on the pre-employment test. So, there's no way that a pre- employment test focused on surfacing a pension for crime is going to be helpful. So, these are just not a helpful tool. I'm sympathetic to the Human Resource function, where we need to screen candidates in a systematic way. But pre-employment tests are not an effective tool for that in general, because people in general are not that honest.
Yeah. Yeah. And you just touched on something, you know that a lot of us Autistic people are honest to a fault. Yeah. And then there's, there's also the matter of literal thinking, there's being very rule based. You know, I know one of the one of the one of the questions I remember on a, on a pre-employment personality test was, "If you saw a coworker who is stealing from the company, what would you do?" You know, and the tendency, of course, is to say, “I would do something about that.” But as you say, the employer may not be looking for somebody who will do that. And so, they might be tempted to look at somebody who answers that question ever so honestly, as somebody who's gonna cause rifts in the workplace, you know, so but I'll let you I'll let you comment on that. And then we can explore this topic a little more.
That's right. And I think it helps us transition beyond the single issue of pre-employment tests to the other screening choices that an employer makes. They are looking for a cultural fit match. And, and there's reasonableness to that. And there's unreasonableness to that, but in looking for a culture fit match, somebody who seems very prone to honesty, in an organization that might have that sort of dishonest, political, toxic culture, they're not going to fit in. On some level, the job candidate is dodging a bullet there. Right? We do want to land in places where we fit in. But we don't want to be discriminated against, we really want to collect the information to make this decision ourselves. And I think what's a core issue here, and there's always it's always good to mention the disability justice principles that guide our work. It's a core Disability Justice principle. In addition to things like intersectionality, and interdependence, and collective liberation and cross movement, solidarity is anti-capitalism. Capitalism in and of itself is positioned to reduce humanity to its productivity. To evaluate individuals according to our productivity, and to not favor those of us that have difficulty being productive and the way that capitalism seeks.
Exactly. Yeah. Yes. And, and one of the things I've also commented about in the past is that here in Minnesota, of course, we have some of the strongest human rights laws in the country whereby, you know, they can't tell somebody, I'm not hiring you, because you're Autistic, I'm not hiring you, because you're LGBT, I'm not, they can't say I'm not going to hire you because you're of a different race or culture or your language, etc. So, what you know, instead of blatant discrimination, it will often be implied. And you know, there's nothing to stop an employer from hiring somebody knowing full well that they might not want to hire them for whatever they're protected class reason is. And they'll say, Okay, I don't have to do that. But I can start a folder on them, that says, if they are, you know, don't work according to the hand, the employee handbook in some way, shape or form, they can start to eliminate them that way. And so, we know that a lot of this happens to a lot of Autistics in the workplace and other classes as well. But we're here to as much as we've talked about that, we want to talk about the details and practices for Autistic Adults to be employed, which I take, we want to talk about the positive, there are ways of course, that Autistics and our intersectional communities can be employed. So, let's switch into my second question that I think is exactly where we're going to go. How can we engage the intersectional Autistic Adults, communities, regarding the details and practices for Autistic Adults to be employed? Go ahead.
The important thing here, when considering all of this, and sort of an anti-capitalist framework, is that it doesn't really matter what our political positions are in regard to, like capitalism, because we live in a capitalist society. Capitalism is being hoisted upon us to survive. So, we have to find jobs. Another piece about work is that we don't just work to survive. Very few of us would work difficult jobs, if we weren't compensated, but we, we are seeking fulfillment in our work. So, for a job seeker, I think my first thing to encourage is not follow your dreams, or some sort of, you know, cliche thing like that, but to seek work that you think might be fulfilling. And you think, might intersect with what you're good at. So, one of the things that has brought me to Autism focused advocacy is that I am Autistic. I kind of don't have a choice. We are doing this for our own self-determination. And when a person experiences a marginalization, it, it often puts them in a position where they care about that issue. It's highly privileged to just pick an issue out of thin air and say, I care about this, I'm going to dedicate my career to it, especially when that issue doesn't affect someone. So, let's, you know, since most of us don't have the kind of privilege where we can just pick a social issue to focus on or something, we probably are drawn to something that is personally meaningful in our life in the way that I'm drawn to Autism advocacy, and I know that you are too. Definitely. Not, not all of your listeners are going to be drawn to Autism advocacy. They could be drawn to science fiction, and whatever they're drawn to, is their own thing, but you're looking for a position that is intersecting with your interests and what you care about, and your skill set. Because I might I this isn't true of me. But I might love basketball but be terrible at it. I should not pursue a career in the NBA because that's never gonna happen. Right? So, we want to pursue things that we might be good at. Now we may need to gain experience in the workforce and advance our careers. But at the end of the day, it needs to be something that we might be good at. So, if I am the kind of Autistic person who struggles with salesy conversations and stuff like that, I might not want to pursue a sales job. Whereas if I'm somebody who's actually really good with scripts, what which is a common trait for Autistic people, maybe I do want to pursue a sales job because I can employ those scripts and kind of not, you know, you know, not need the same reciprocation in the conversation, everybody is different. So, I have experience and, you know, management and organizational stuff, and I care about Autism. So that brings me to this position where I'm working in an Autism organization. And it's at that intersection. So, I think something we should do in this conversation is acknowledge the diversity of Autistic experience. I'm somebody who I am I very much am disabled. And I'm also somebody who might get identified as higher functioning for people who use that kind of language. Now, I don't use that kind of language.
No, no, no. But I appreciate the context. Go ahead.
Yeah, yeah, it's important for folks to know that the world will perceive me as high functioning, and that the world may perceive someone else's less functioning than me. We don't use functioning language, because it is solidarity that allows us to be a community and to support each other with our different skill sets. But maybe someone struggles with executive function, to the point that an administrative position might not be a good idea for them. That's an example where they need to think about their skill set in them and the position match. Or maybe somebody is nonverbal. There's 1,000,001, things that are nonverbal person can do. But telemarketing is not one of them, right? And that's okay. It's just, it's just knowing that they are not well equipped to do that. And so, if we all have these different experiences, and abilities, and skill sets and challenges, we need to pursue, work that considers that and considers our passions and what's meaningful to us. And then lastly, I guess, considers what people will pay you to do, right? So, it's at the intersection of those three things that we want to find a job. So that's my first piece of advice for job seekers is to think about that before we enter into the workforce. Now, if I'm a teenager, and I'm getting my first job, and it's at a fast-food restaurant, or something, it none of those things may be true, but that's like, you know, that's part of life and, and part of growing up. The next thing I would do is I would build the skills that match that intersection of opportunity. So, we should talk a little bit about job interviewing. But regardless of the discriminatory sort of components of the job interview process, all of us have to develop job interview skills to be able to navigate that part of society. Because again, while I might feel anti-capitalist, I am forced to live in a capitalist society for the time being. So, I need to work on this skill. So, my suggestion to folks is to get support. To practice job interview skills, or job search skills or resume building skills, whatever skill we're talking about, get support, practice it, get as good as you can at it, and then put your best foot forward. And a lot of the time, we are telling people not to at least consider not masking. And for listeners who don't know masking, is when we try to obscure the traits associated with our neuro-type or our disability to better fit in and blend in with the world. Masking is harmful. It encourages depression and anxiety because we're not being our true selves. But in a job interview, you're not being your true self, you're being your best self. And it's okay to do that. We have to do that. We should talk about how job interviews are not accessible. But I do want to begin that part of the conversation with acknowledging that we have to do our best to build these skills to the best of our ability, whatever that ability, maybe.
Following this next commercial break, Daren will talk about how Autistics and employers can navigate interviews. Daren will explain how and why Autistics need to be supported, and why we need to work to eliminate the subminimum wage.
Commercial Break II
So, let's talk about interviewing. And I have heard, I have had these experiences, and I know a lot of Autistics have, they put together a great interview strategy, as I say. They may have worked with a job coach, or someone who can help them do this, they followed the rules, they still didn't get hired. So, let's talk about interview practices and continue with where you left off.
I want to pause and say that for the for the person, or people on the other side of the table, the hiring manager, or the human resource professional, we need them to do the opposite. As a hiring manager, I want the candidates that I'm interviewing to, to do their absolute best. And I know that they may be struggling, for example, with social anxiety. If they're struggling with this anxiety, or just nervous about the interview, or their communication skills don't match neurotypical expectations, whether that's in their speech patterns, or their physical patterns, or obviously, that not making eye contact. So, eye contact is a challenge for at least the majority, I think of Autistic people. I need the hiring managers and the HR professionals to understand that those things might happen. And to come into the conversation with some grace, and work to extract the best possible version of the candidate that is interviewing. So, for example, I have interviewed candidates where they provide one word or one sentence answers to complex questions. And it would be very easy as a hiring manager to say that answer is not good enough. And I'm not gonna hire this person. But the reality is that they may have the information in there, they may have the experience, and it's my job as a hiring manager to draw that information out. So, I ask follow up questions. I dig a little deeper. If they've misunderstood the question. I work hard to reframe it and give them every opportunity to be successful. And after I've done all that if their answers still not good, then they may not understand the issue well enough to be equipped to do that portion of the job and I may have found some information by which I can make a decision, but I have to. I have to do the work as much as the candidate has to do the work. So, for candidates, put your best foot forward, be well prepared. Practice your interview skills, roleplay, even make some eye contact. If you don't love making eye contact, this is how we get jobs. But at the end of the day, the hiring manager needs to do their part too, in understanding where those things might be challenges for us. And, you know eye contact, literal interpretations, difficulty with demand recall, nervous tics, and twitches. These are the sorts of things that make Autistic people seem different is not a problem different is fine, we just need to draw out the answer that we're looking for from the candidate. I mentioned demand recall, some Autistic people might have difficulty answering a question effectively. If they are having trouble sort of focusing in on that particular memory. I'll give you an example. One of my favorite interview questions, and this is a great hint for anybody who ever applies for a job in which I am the hiring manager. I almost always ask, tell me about a time you made a mistake, what you learned from it, and how you resolved the situation. And the reason I ask this question is because tell me about a time is a behavior-based question. What I'm saying is don't make up a fake scenario, tell me about something that actually happened so that I can judge your behavior as a predictor of future behavior. And I ask about a mistake because we all make them. Every employee is gonna make a mistake. And I want to know, I don't want to know how they prevent them. Because they're inevitable. I want to know how they deal with them. I ask what you learned from the mistake, because I think that since we all make mistakes, the most important thing is that we learn from them so as to prevent them in the future. So, it's my favorite interview question. If somebody if I ask somebody this question, I, I very rarely get an immediate response. Because it's a complex question. If I ask a really obvious question, Oh, tell me about what's prepared you for this position? The person is going to have a canned response, they're going to be prepared for that you're going to be able to answer quickly. But when I ask a question that starts with "Tell me about a time," they have to pause and think about a time and compared to neurotypical folks, Autistic folks may struggle with that more, not everybody, but many Autistics struggle with that. So as an interviewer, I need to give them extra time. So, I've learned with that question being one of my favorites to just be really patient while they develop a response. I have even had occasions where people are like, I know, it's just that I'm nervous. But I'm drawing a blank. And I say, that's okay. We'll come back to the question, give you some time to think about it. Let's move on to something else. And then we come back to it. So, there's a lesson in there for both sides of the table. And that those are some of the practices I employ as a as a hiring manager. And for the job candidate. We need to think about some of the stories we're going to tell in an interview and sort of prepare those things. Maybe my question is unusual, but somebody is always going to ask about strengths and weaknesses. They're always going to ask about your experience. So, prepare some stories in advance that you can share. And then if you are hitting a bit of a communication wall, especially as it relates to some of the challenges that come with Autism, I would say it's important to be honest, that you need a minute or and like that phrase that I said, I'm drawing a blank. Could we maybe come back to that after half a second to think about it? Is a perfectly reasonable thing to say in an interview. And, and so I as much as we have to work hard to prepare and as much as we might have to work hard to do things that don't come naturally like make eye contact. We can also admit that we are humans and behave as humans in the conversation. That at the end of the day is going to improve our human connection with the candidate.
Yeah, I liked it you brought up the issue of eye contact, because I have a question to ask you. Now you being Autistic yourself who works with other Autistics, you are going to understand that there are Autistics who don't make eye contact. You're gonna understand that. However, from what I understand about the neurotypical population, is that for them, someone not making eye contact while they're answering a question is a hint of dishonesty. You know? And so, do you have any advice to give to an Autistic whom who does not use, who does not make eye contact? Is there any advice you might give them? That they could use to help the interviewer understand their unique body language? What is your recommendations about things like that?
It's a great question. On some level, we could probably have a whole episode about eye contact, right? Yeah. I think Autistic folks who struggle with eye contact, are put in a really difficult position, because neurotypicals are saying they want eye contact. But too much eye contact will make them just as uncomfortable as not enough eye contact. And so, it's a difficult needle to thread, it's a lose lose scenario. My advice for Neurodivergent folks around eye contact is to make the attempt. It makes us uncomfortable. But make a little eye contact. One thing that I do is I look at folk's nose and mouth. Because in addition to some of my eye contact discomfort, I also have and this is not true of everybody, but I have some challenges around interpreting audio or verbal things. I'm not sure exactly what this is called. But I have some challenges hearing people unless I'm looking at them, and like dedicating the necessary processing power to the task. So, it helps me to look at somebody's mouth, because I can employ. It's not like I'm a lip reader, but I can employ a bit of lip reading and sort of standard facial expressions. Whereas the eye contact makes me a little more uncomfortable. So, find a place on the person's face, that is a little more accessible to you spend a couple of seconds on that place, you know, whether it's their mouth, or their nose, or their forehead, or the spot right between their eyes. But we don't want to stare at people because it makes them uncomfortable. And we don't want to spend really any time looking at the rest of them. And I think that that's one of the things that that might be an important lesson for folks who struggle with eye contact. It's not that somebody wants you to stare into their eyes longingly, save that for your lovers. It's that they don't want you looking them up and down and looking at the rest of their body. I've never met somebody who was comfortable with their body, right? We all get uncomfortable. So, if you stare at my belly, I'm gonna get a little self-conscious. But if you look at my face, I'm not going to and so I think neurotypicals are looking for us to engage in this interaction in a way that is not off putting by like staring at their hands or something. But I don't think that most neurotypicals are looking for us to perfectly thread the needle between too little and too much eye contact. Yeah, because they don't really do that particularly well, either.
Yeah. Um, I want to move into my third question. Now that we have explored the details and practices for Autistic Adults to be employed, and talked about how we can get them engaged. How can we empower Autistic Adults to discover their strengths and use them in this matter? And I don't want us to conclude this interview by not talking about some of the points that you intended to bring, such as we want to talk about elimination of the sub minimum wages. And we want to talk about how to secure accommodations and, you know, promising practices and rights responsibilities and all that. So go ahead and do what you're going to do there. But let's at least give that a start.
Right. So, what, let me frame it this way, because there's lots of stuff, I'm excited to talk about employment, but let's frame it this way. Okay, we got the job. And now what? Right? Like what are my what are my responsibilities? What are my rights? And the first thing I'll say, is that part of the challenge with the Neurodiversity movement, and the way that people from the medical model of disability movement is that they think that we are saying that by affirming different neurotypes, as a necessary part of human diversity, they are saying, we are just different, not disabled. And that's not fair. Because when you are just different and not disabled, you actually don't have any rights. As much as I love the charming quirkiness of everybody's differences. You don't have any rights and protections because you're different. It's being disabled, that provides us with a little more focused protection. It's not extra protection. That's the other thing that folks get hung up on is they think, Oh, well, accommodations are something extra for those disabled people that I don't get as a not disabled person. And that's wrong too. Accommodations, the rights of people from with marginalized identities are leveling the playing field, not leaning on the scales. And I know I'm mixing metaphors here. But what that means is that if somebody had a visual disability, such that they needed to wear glasses, we would let them wear glasses. Not take away their glasses to keep things fair, right?
That's exactly, exactly.
Yeah. So, accommodations, and that whole piece of the conversation, first and foremost, does not diminish the fact that we are celebrating Neurodiversity. But celebrating Neurodiversity is also not a denial of disability. And in fact, if you deny disability, you are essentially denying this protection. So, we have to acknowledge disability if we are seeking accommodation. Before we even get there, I think that there's a preliminary task for the Autist in the workplace, and that is to seek support. The whole thing with Autism is not that we can't do what neurotypicals can do. It's that we may need support. Just like if somebody had a mobility disability. It's not that they can't do what everybody else can do, it's that they may need a mobility device to be able to access what everybody else can access. So, with that in mind, we need to ask for support where it's needed, which means that in the workforce, we typically have at least one supervisor. In fact, many positions I've had, I've had many supervisors which is really frustrating from a social standpoint, but they are there. It is their responsibility to support us. As a manager, it is my responsibility not just to hold somebody accountable to the expectations of the position, but to support them. To provide them the necessary resources to be effective. This can look like really simple stuff. We employ a lot of Autistic people at the Autism Society, as you might imagine. We have removed the fluorescent light bulbs and replace them with incandescent light bulbs. That is something that we do because if we didn't, too much of our workforce would just be struggling with being in the office. But something else that we do is that we allow a hybrid work environment there are things that we need to do in person. But there are a lot of things that we do during the day that don't actually need to happen at the office, they could happen from our homes. And so, we allow people some flexibility and to be able to work from home, these sorts of accommodations are necessary to get the best of our employees. And something great is the sort of curb cut effect, where when we provide an accommodation for everyone, it not only levels the playing field for people who are who are disadvantaged, but it helps everyone. So, the curb cut thing is the under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there has been a shift towards more buildings, and public spaces being physically accessible to folks who use wheelchairs, right. So, we have more ramps, we have that part of the sidewalk that is slanted, that's called a curb cut. And it improves wheelchair access, we have a lot to do in regard to wheelchair access. I know you know that firsthand. But we those things, they help everybody. Ramps make it more easy to access something for somebody who doesn't use a wheelchair to. And curb cuts make it possible for families with strollers to easily navigate the world despite that having nothing to do with wheelchair usage. So, when we employ accommodations, we are supporting everyone, we are making the world better for everyone. The responsibility of the Autistic person in the workforce is to ask for the support that we need. If we don't ask, nobody will know. And if we don't acknowledge disability, we don't have any protection under the ADA. There's no protection for being quirky. The protection is about having a disability. And that can be frustrating for folks to navigate because some people are really uncomfortable with the word disability.
Yeah. Yes. And we also know that there's a loophole there in that if one's disability prevents them from doing the basics requirements of a job, that can be reasons not to hire somebody.
Yeah, that's right. Let's dig deeper into that. So, it's all about reasonable accommodation. I could want with the very soul of my being to be an NBA player. But I am not much of an athlete and would not get that job. That is skill. Right? That's qualification. So, let's not get offended if we're not skilled or qualified to get a particular position. But what if somebody is skilled and qualified, but requires a particular accommodation? That accommodation is their right. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar legislation. There is an interactive process that we enter into with our human resources function in a company to explore the application of that process. So, the employee usually initiates the process by saying, I need support, I need an accommodation, I think I need an accommodation. They may even have some ideas about what it is. Sometimes that will require the disclosure of the condition. But it does not always require that. And our policy at the Autism Society, by the way, is that we don't ask for that. Or at least I haven't run into a situation yet where I've needed to confirm the particulars of the disability. We understand that people are disabled and we're gonna give them the benefit of the doubt. But we ask for the accommodation, we may have to provide some sort of evidence or support from a medical professional, and then begins a process in which the employer and the employee figure out what accommodation is reasonable. So, the accommodation needs to help specifically with the challenge at hand. And it needs to be reasonable for the organization. So, for example, if I have a job making widgets, and my pay is in proportion to the number of widgets that I make It is very, very reasonable for me to get an accommodation, that that allows me to more effectively make widgets. So maybe most people make widgets standing up. And I can't stand for an extended period of time. So, my accommodation is that I get a chair, I can sit down to make widgets. Great. That's a reasonable accommodation. But if my accommodation is that I'm going to make only half as many widgets, that may not be reasonable, because the whole premise of my wage is predicated on the revenue generated by my activity. Now, not every job is a revenue generating position. So, if we are a cost center employee, for example, a human resources professional, we don't bring in revenue as HR people, we cost the company money. The scenario is a little different. But if it's a revenue generating position where the activity of the person is directly influencing the income of the organization, then some reasonable adjustment to the expectations is necessary. But it may not be reasonable to completely eliminate the expectations or to reduce them to a certain point. And I think folks need to understand that it is an interactive process. It's an iterative process. And that reasonable is very vague, hard to understand. But it does have real business meaning, and not everything we asked for is going to be accommodated. If its determination is that it's not reasonable.
Yeah, especially since, again, I have to go back to that interview with Samuel J. Levine, because we were talking about preferred accommodation vs. reasonable. And his reply to that, as is that how do you measure reasonableness, with the habitually unreasonable person, that sort of thing? Which is, which is a very valid question. And, you know, my problem, my problem with that language, actually, is that what I need is not what I may need for an accommodation isn't preferred, it's a necessity. But to the person who's employing me, that may be unreasonable. You see, so that's where some of that language, I'm gonna say that, if the, if the efforts were ever made to forgive me, to update the ADA, I would be all for it because of language like that. But um, you know, go ahead, go ahead.
Philip the ADA needs a number of updates. It, it's, it's been on the books for a while that we have a lot of work to do. I really like what you're saying about desired accommodation is not the same thing as necessary, we should be careful about language. Reasonable is the legal sort of requirement. Necessary, like it is very necessary, it may be necessary for a person to have an accommodation that is not reasonable. And here is where I want to talk a little bit about sub minimum wage. For folks that don't know, in Minnesota and a number of other states, it is still legal to pay people less than minimum wage, because they have a disability. Now, the way that you do that, is through a sheltered workshop environment. It's not like you've just reduced the wages. But the premise of why this is legal, is the argument that they're making is that it's not reasonable to accommodate people who can't be as productive. So, we want to pay them according to their productivity, because it's necessary. And while that might pass logical criteria, at first glance, it doesn't when somebody starts making 15 cents an hour. Exactly. So instead, we have to understand what work is meaningful. And not all work that is meaningful, is productive. So, if you're just straight running a business, and you need a certain amount of revenue to pay a certain salary, I need to make $11 an hour so that I can pay you $10 an hour. You're not allowed to pay subminimum wage. But right now, the programs paying sub minimum wage are essentially like nonprofit type environments where it's really a service, not a traditional job. And right, people are using that as a loophole. And so, what we are working to change, and you can folks can get involved in this, this effort, there's information on our website, but what we are working to do is to make it just flatly illegal to pay less than minimum wage, for reasons of disability, because programs that are engaging people in meaningful work, don't have to be profitable. Like nobody offered to you that if you want a profitable business, then have a good business plan, and offer jobs that pay well and run a business. But these sheltered workshops are a service to the disability community. Nobody is saying that they need to close, we're just saying that if you're going to go through the motions of employment, if you're going to employ somebody, you are going to pay them a fair wage. And honestly, we're not even asking for a fair wage, we're asking for minimum wage. We're not even getting into the conversation of fair. So, we are working really hard to eliminate the legal loopholes that allow people to pay less than minimum wage just because somebody is disabled. We are we're also working equally hard to make sure that programs that provide people with meaningful work are not shuttered because of this effort. And those two things can coexist.
Yet, as what can also happen is that once we do succeed in eliminating the sub minimum wage, I imagine we're going to have some employers say, Well, if we have to pay them more than the subminimum wage, and we're just going to cut jobs from those that work. I mean, that's one of their loopholes that they get to use as well.
It's true. And as somebody who has cut jobs, right, I've worked in organizations where like, I've had to lay people off. And, you know, nobody loves doing that. It's awful. If it's a business, like the bottom line has to work, like the math has to work, it's okay to eliminate jobs. It's not okay to eliminate social programs that are providing disabled people who might not be able to get a traditional job with a meaningful work environment. Like let's continue to do that. Let's just pay them minimum wage or more. Exactly, exactly. And for folks who aren't in that place, where their challenges with the work world are such that, that that the idea of getting a job is completely out of reach to them. There's a couple of paths forward. One, and you're a great example of somebody who does this is self-employment, right? Yeah, a good business model and a good idea, you can support yourself. And it is and freedom comes from not having to work to make some other person money. Right. Right, make money for ourselves. The other thing that is helpful is reaching out to vocational rehabilitation services. It's not a perfect government program by any means. But they're able to provide support in the job search in the preparations in once you've acquired the job. And some people need that kind of support. And that's what that is there for. So, I want folks to feel like they can pursue that. And then the other the last thing is, is living in an environment where we are underemployed. And I don't love this one, because I believe that there should sort of be a minimum standard of living. But if the best we can do is get a job that's not quite good enough, then what we need, as working professionals with a disability is some sort of supplement and support. And so, the example that I like to share here is called MA-EPD. It's Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities. And what that means is that you can have a job, you can make whatever income you can make. But if you still can't afford the services or the health care that are necessary for you to survive in this world, then you will still qualify for those things. Now we have to work on some reforms to the asset limit requirements and some other stuff again, very imperfect program. But the idea here is that if you are experiencing under employment, where you can't afford all the necessary services, folks may not be aware that they still can get services, they'll have to it's a whole process, they'll have to be declared disabled by the state. It's not an easy process by any means. But there is a path forward, for us to have meaningful work and get government support. You don't have to be destitute to get the government support. That said, because our system is so broken. It seems like they really work hard to keep you destitute things like asset limits are awful. You know, their asset limits, that's like $2,000. If you have more than $2,000, in a bank account, you lose your public assistance benefit, like that's unacceptable.
Actually 3000 in Minnesota.
I'm not an expert. But this there, there are many necessary reforms. But one of these three paths, you know, is available to folks. And with that in mind, all of us can work.
After this final commercial break, Daren will talk about the exciting things happening at The Autism Society of Minnesota. Immediately following that will be Today’s Autistic Community Bulletin Board.
Commercial Break III
Join my guest Eric Ringgenberg and I on January 21st for Emergency Preparedness Planning for Autistic Adults. Exploring the importance of emergency preparedness for Autistic Adults, Eric Ringgenberg, Director of Education Programs at The Autism Society of Minnesota, will delve into creating personalized plans. The discussion will encompass identifying emergencies, providing insights into how emergencies can impact diverse communities within the Autistic Culture. The conversation aims to empower Autistic Adults with strategies to understand, prepare for, and navigate emergencies effectively.
Today’s Autistic Moment will once again present two shows in February for Black History Month. On February 4th Jen White-Johnson will be my guest for To Be Pro-Neurodiversity is to be Anti-Racist. Join us for an insightful discussion with Jen White-Johnson, an ADHD, black, Boricua mother of an Autistic Child and an Art Activist for Disability Culture & Justice. We’ll explore the intersectionality of Neurodiversity and racial justice, addressing the presence of racism within the movement. Lean how to actively promote inclusivity and equality in advocating for Neurodiversity while acknowledging and addressing biases in diagnostic criteria. This conversation strives to empower individuals to work together for a more just and inclusive advocacy movement.
On February 18th, join me to welcome back Precious Lesley for Education & Health Care Disparities for Black Autistic Adults. Precious Lesley will explore the intricate intersectionality of race, gender, and socioeconomic status in the experience of Black Autistic Adults specifically within the realms of education and health care.
Check out the Future Shows page on todaysautisticmoment.com for all upcoming shows and guests.
If you would like to offer to be a guest on Today’s Autistic Moment, go to the Be My Guest page on todaysautisticmoment.com to fill out the Guest Intake Form.
If you have any topic recommendations, please go to the Contact Us page and submit your ideas.
Thank you for listening to Today’s Autistic Moment.
So, Daren, we have now entered into 2024, which means we have the Minnesota Autism Conference coming in April, we have so many things coming up. And lots of workshops and skillshops, of course that we're going to be talking about, is there anything you want to say about what AuSM is doing and 2024?
Well, thank you for the opportunity. It's always a pleasure to talk to you. I love doing this. For those in Minnesota connected to the Autism Community. I would point folks to our website ausm.org, where they can learn more about The Autism Society in Minnesota. We have a number of exciting things coming together for 2024. It's hard for me even to prioritize what I would mention. But there will be our annual conference in April. There will be other events to connect with, there will be educational opportunities. Since 1977, we have done a summer camp for Autistic youth and adults. We have our counseling department. If all of that is intimidating or too much or too costly, I would encourage people to visit our support groups which meet online or in person to visit our coffee club, which meets at local coffee shops. That doesn't cost you anything, maybe more than a cup of coffee, but you get to come into a space that has been intentionally made more accessible and connect with the community. So, for folks who may be hearing about this stuff, for the first time, check out the website, there's tons of stuff to learn about, Oh, yeah. But I really just want to invite people into community can absolutely to some community, that is where we find our belonging and together is where we are able to pursue our self-determination.
Absolutely. And you know, I know that there are a lot of you out there who live in places where you don't have a lot of the social communication. Or if you're not able to build communities easy easily. I invite you to think about can you start a coffee night somewhere for other Autistics to come? Can you work on something that's going to bring you together to address an issue like eliminating the sub minimum wage, and then that can expand into the rest of the disability community? I mean, once you start in some cases with one little speck or something, it's amazing how that will just grow it can grow and become something that really does affect people's lives. It in a very constructive, powerful way. Daren, Howard, thank you so much for being on Today's Autistic Moment as our first program of the year. This is absolutely excellent. And I know that my audience appreciates this very much. So, thank you for being here today, sir.
It is my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Today’s Autistic Community Bulletin Board
All of these events with their links can be found at todaysautisticmoment.com/bulletinboard.
Join The Autism Society of Minnesota for their Adult Coffee Club. The next Coffee Clubs will be on Tuesday nights from 5pm to 7pm at Dogwood Coffee in St. Paul on February 6th, March 5th, April 2nd, May 7th, and June 4th. Please RSVP at ausm.org.
Understanding Autism virtual classes will be offered by The Autism Society of Minnesota. These classes are perfect for Autistic individuals, caregivers, those who want to understand the basics of Autism and support Autistic people. Classes will be on February 12th from 10am to 12pm and April 8th from 10am to 12pm. Classes are free of charge, but you must register to attend.
On January 9th, beginning at 7-8:30pm there will be a skillshop at The Autism Society of Minnesota about Online Dating: From Profile to Potential Relationship presented by Alyssa Perau. Many unspoken rules come with dating and even more with online dating. Learn about some of these social rules as well as how to set up an online dating profile, discuss some of the popular dating apps, how to prepare for a date, and how to clarify and communicate what you want from online dating.
On January 23rd beginning at 7-8:30pm there will be a skillshop at The Autism Society of Minnesota entitled: Examining Our Roots: History of the Neurodiversity Movement by Ira Eidle. The Neurodiversity movement has existed for roughly thirty years. Much of that history is not well known by most people. There is a lot to discuss when it come to the movement’s history, and how it compares to other disability sub-movements as well as the greater disability rights movement. It is still a young movement, although a lot of progress has been made since it started. This panel will go over the different eras thus far of the movement, highlight key movements, and discuss the strengths as well as the shortcomings of the Neurodiversity movement.
Go to ausm.org to get more information about these and other social and educational events, including your opportunity to enter the lottery for AuSM’s Summer Camps at The Autism Society of Minnesota.
MNeurodivergent is a social club rooted in a vision of bringing Neurodivergent Minnesotans together to build meaningful connections. Its core principle is to foster an environment where all are treated with dignity and respect regardless of ability or preference. Go to the bulletin board at todaysautisticmoment.com and click on the Meet Up link to become a member and attend their events.
One last thing before we finish, among the intersecting communities that Today’s Autistic Moment is still including are our caregivers. Our caregivers are so important, and much of what we talk about is for them to better understand the Autistic Adults in their lives.
Today’s Autistic Moment is here because of the generosity of supporters and sponsors. Please join the supporters by clicking on Support Today’s Autistic Moment on todaysautisticmoment.com. If you work for a company and/or organization that supports Autistic Adults and the movement for Neurodiversity, I would love to have you sponsor ads on the show.
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Thank you for listening to Today’s Autistic Moment: A Podcast for Autistic Adults by An Autistic Adult.
May you have an Autistically Amazing day.