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is more than 100 grand to teach job interview skills to autistics worth it?

Posted Oct 12 2011 12:00am
I see that everybody's favorite autism funding organization, autism speaks, has awarded nearly two million in grants to various research projects designed to help mitigate some of the challenges in life that those of us on the spectrum have. One common complaint of many affected by autism is the lack of funding for studies involving problems in adulthood. So one study in particular caught my eye.

Lindee Morgan, a psychologist in Florida, plans to study a social skills training protocol that deals with job interview techniques. On reading the last paragraph about the rationale of the study, it is unclear to me whether or not the study's purpose is to actually help autistics with their interviewing skills so they can more easily obtain employment
Because this experimental treatment targets the job interview context, one aim is to evaluate whether ISC increases in targeted social communication skills, changes in adaptive behavior, and quality of life variables. Further positive changes in mental health status as a result of ISC will also be explored.

On reading this pedantically written paragraph, it is unclear to me what the purpose or rationale of this study is, period.

As has been previously mentioned, with the exception of the funding of Alex Plank's trashy autism talk TV videos and John Robison pocketing some of the cash from this endeavor, not a single person with autism, to the best of my knowledge, has ever had a paid job at autism speaks in any capacity. Gadfly wonders why more than one hundred grand could not be spent to employ some persons with autism in this stellar organization that claims to care so much about us rather than on this study with questionable and vague aims from reading the grant material on AS' website.

I concede that my expertise in most areas is limited to nonexistent. One subject I do have extensive knowledge in with nearly 28 years of actual experience, is interviewing and applying for jobs as an individual with an ASD. Though I managed to get some jobs where I was extensively interviewed, I often had a hard time due to body language, lack of eye contact and other issues. Also, the fact I had a bachelors degree in psychology and not pursuing a career in this area was also a liability that prospective employers sometimes commented on. My problems are probably not as overt on first blush as numerous others on the spectrum are. So, I was briefly able to "pass" for "a normal person".

At some jobs, the interview was not so important as assessing my ability to type for various data entry and other types of jobs where nimble fingers were an asset. In spite of my poor fine motor coordination in handwriting, I can type more than 80 words a minute and this helped. When I became more experienced in medical transcription and applied for jobs in that field, prospective employers scarcely interviewed me. They gave me tests, as someone's skill in MT is rather easy to assess to see whether or not they could make the cut before hiring them.

Upon being hired, getting the job was only half the battle. Keeping it was another story. After my problems (as said before not perceivable as first blush) came to the fore, such as funny movements, loud voice, inability to get along with some people, I was terminated from some jobs. Also, in spite of the testing process, my inability to later concentrate on the work and avoid making an excessive amount of careless errors cost me other jobs. My ability, or lack of it, in the interview process was certainly not a major factor in my employment problems.

I concede I can't speak for others on the spectrum completely but I suspect the situation is at least somewhat similar, it not identical, for many of them. Assuming this treatment successfully teaches them how to interview for a job, will they be able to keep a job after the interview? What about training for a job, such as teaching someone computer programming skills, plumbing, etc. I suspect that a number of the subjects involved in this study have no marketable skills or at least paid experience in any sort of profession that is in high demand. Therefore, they will be forced to look for unskilled work, such as a picker in a warehouse (my first job after college) or a ditch digger, etc, or any other minimum wage job you can think of.

I know from my experience that ironically enough, the unskilled jobs are sometimes the most difficult ones for a person on the spectrum to keep. After all, with more than 9% unemployment nationwide, including people who come to this country illegally from Mexico or other countries, the pool of unskilled labor is quite high and if an employer does not like someone due to behavior or poor work performance, they are easily replaced with someone else.

I wonder, for these reasons, if spending more than one hundred grand on a study to teach autistics job interview skills is money well spent. I am inclined to think not. Of course, there may be something that I am missing in this assessment.

Somehow, when I think of an organization that would give a man a half a million dollar grant who states that autism does not have the scientific status of a disease and that autistics are not dysfunctional only different and has a certain tenth grade dropout on their scientific advisory board, I am at least somewhat inclined to think this is another example of money poorly spent and a bad funding decision.
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