What Autistics Want Families to Know About Employment

A CDCI Community Panel Event

“I’ve constantly basically had situations where I was given tasks that I should do, and had to come up with an entirely new way of doing it, or a way of getting my mind to work around the problem, or to learn something that’s separate from the actual typical expected learning, activity to do it.

And all those things that just add up to a tremendous amount of time and effort.”

The UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI) hosted a virtual community panel, on neurodivergence and employment. A trio of community members will be talking about their experiences with employment, and what they want families to know about providing support.

The community members on the panel were:

Mel Houser, autistic physician and neurodiverse employment consultant
Michael Shor, autistic psychotherapist and researcher
Nicole Villemaire, autistic self-advocate and researcher

The panel was moderated by Jesse Suter, executive director of CDCI.

A full transcript appears below.

Jesse: Hello, and welcome to our virtual community panel, what autistic people want families to know about employment. I’m Jesse Suter, Director of the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at the University of Vermont, and I use he/him pronouns. We have an amazing panel this afternoon, so I’m very excited to turn it over to them.

I just want to say I have personally benefited from their expertise many times since I became director over 5 years ago. Each of them, at different times, served on our center’s Advisory Council, and I had the honor of working with and learning from them on topics such as seclusion and restraint in schools, intersection of disability and mental health, and participatory action research.

Without further ado I’m going to turn it over to each of our panelists to introduce themselves.

And let’s start with Dr. Mel Houser.

Mel: Hi everybody. I’m Mel Houser. I use she/they pronouns, and I am a family physician and the executive director of All Brains Belong Vermont, which is a nonprofit supporting neurodiversion kids and adults. And I learned at the age of 37 that I am autistic, ADHD, dyslexic, dyspraxic and dyscalculic. And I’m also the parent of a multiply neurodivergent child.

Jesse: Welcome. So, Michael, if you could introduce yourself.

Michael: Hi, I’m Michael. I am a therapist currently working at St. Johnsbury Psychology Associates. I’ll be transferring to my own private practice soon. I also have been doing some work for some research projects at the University of Vermont out of the UVM Autism Collaborative.

Jesse: Thank you. So we can go ahead and jump into the first question, then. All right, okay. So the first question needs a little bit of an introduction. So I’m gonna do that, and then we’ll turn it over to our panelists.

Before we get into this afternoon’s topic, I want to address the language we’re using to describe autism in this space.

So there’s a lot of debate right now about person-first versus identity-first language.

Person-first is describing people with disabilities as a person with a disability.

Identity-first language puts the disability first. In this case, person first would be people with autism or people on the autism spectrum and identity first would be autistic people or autistics.

So I’m going to turn it over to our panelists and ask, how do you identify? And what’s your preference?  Let’s start again with Mel.

Mel: Sure. So for me being autistic is part of my identity. So I use identity-first language.

Michael: I treat it somewhat neutrally, like, I kind of, I’m okay with a bunch of different ways of doing it. I’ve you know, gone through a bunch of different names for the diagnoses and so I’m sort of getting used to saying “autistic person” and I’m fine being referred to that way. I also sometimes say I’m a person on the autism spectrum too.

I see it as sort of part of who I am, and another way is sometimes sort of things that are also sort of on top of my personality, too. So I have a mixture of ways of thinking about it.

Mel:  Can I just add one more thing to that? I just want to say, because you know, you mentioned controversy. I think that in my view, it doesn’t need to be as much of a controversy because if we just ask people what they prefer — just as you asked us — I think that that removes the controversy, because, you know, I respect any language that anybody uses to refer to their own selves.

Jesse: Thank you. That’s a great perspective. So for the second question, we’re here this afternoon to talk about the autistic experiences of employment. The goal is to provide some ideas for families as to the challenges that employment can present and some ways that families of autistics can support them in both looking for and keeping employment.

So this is a longer question.

But panelists, could you tell us how you’re currently employed, what you do, and how you came into that position?

And this time, Michael, if you’re willing, can we start with you?

Michael: Yeah. So I am currently employed as a therapist. Really, I’m really about to be doing something under an independent business and so that’s one way I’m employed. I’m also employed as a consultant for some research projects at UVM. That’s not full time employment. But at this point, the other isn’t exactly full time employment, either.

And I’m also with a new business, probably looking to develop some information technology work as well. And what was the rest of your question? I think you asked more than that?

Jesse: Well, so I think you answered the first two parts of it, which is how you’re currently employed and there’s lots of different things that you’re doing. So you’re describing that, I think we’re also asking a little bit about the journey for how you got there. So how you came into that position. And for you, it’s a few different opportunities.

Michael: Yeah. So that’s a that’s a complex question. But I will try to give a decent summary of it. I started out I would say, as a person who was in college, interested in studying the mind. And I got my bachelor’s degree in psychology, and had been really interested in figuring out — I found I had a lot of challenges kind of getting the education and experiences I needed to do a lot of the stuff that I cared about in my life. I’ve always been a very scientifically oriented person, so in some ways psychology was a little bit of a compromise for me.

But it was a science. But also I didn’t have the best background in mathematics and other things. That was gonna kind of get me through some of the other kinds of things I was interested in doing at the time. So as I went along I did that.

I learned more and more about how little psychology was doing to focus on the kinds of disabilities I had and the community around that, and got into connecting with people with disabilities and figuring out how to study it and how to have a career path around that. And certainly psychology is a good basis for that, but not super easy.

I ended up getting a master’s degree in social work and using every opportunity I could there to both be involved with like, looking at things that were like, neuro-developmentally related and autism spectrum-related, but also to get experience, doing research and other things, because that was part of what happened when I left my bachelor’s degrees. I had no research experience, which I didn’t even realize that people would want in the way that they did for the kinds of directions I was trying to go.

And then, after that I did some general human services work and ended up making my own private practice in West Virginia, and really kind of started doing counseling stuff, sort of psychotherapy work, and trying to apply all the different things I learned. And it was very experimental what I ended up doing, and it took a lot of energy for me to focus on figuring out what to do and how to do things with it because I really didn’t have as much guidance as I would have wanted.

So I got into that. And then I kept research in mind in my career and was still interested, and after some really challenging situations that came up advocating for some of the clients I had, I really kind of wanted to shift in what I was doing.

And so I ended up having an opportunity to connect with some research that was being done on the autism spectrum and advocated to be a student and really study it at a graduate level. I got into that program which was at the University of Vermont and did that for about a year on a work level. Because in a doctoral program it’s really like often a combination of work and education.

And I really started crashing in my ability to get through the program.

So eventually, I was basically booted out of the program. And then ended up going back into doing psychotherapy within a year of that. And that’s what brought me up here. So that’s been my career path. With that, I also stayed in connection with some of the people I was working with at the University and stuff, and ended up getting more involved again and doing some of the research kinds of things, even though I’m not doing it as part of a doctoral pathway.

Jesse: Thank you, Michael, I really appreciate you going into detail, and that is a complex question. I bet there’s a lot of people that are participating today or might be watching this later that will have had similar journeys, maybe not just like yours, but similarly complex.

Mel, same question to you.

Mel: So Audrey was kind enough to have sent questions ahead of time and the way I answer this question is going to be different than I’m actually going to answer it, after listening to Michael’s story. *laughs*

Because I think that, like the really short form answer is, yes, I am a physician. I work for myself but that’s not the story that I think is most meaningful.

I think it’s important to, that I did not grow up knowing how my brain worked, and I did not grow up knowing what my access needs were. And I got really lucky that things happened in a good enough way, like it was good, and my grades were good enough to get into college.

And I struggled for reasons I did not know. I struggled socially, I struggled with the executive functioning. I did like certain things, these really focused areas around math. I had no idea about my learning disability. Anyway, I gravitated towards stuff I was good at.

So when I say that I got lucky, that’s something that intentionally we try to support young children in figuring out what their strengths are and designing an educational and social and life experience based on our strength. So there was no intentionality around that, I just avoided all the things that I struggled to do. There were also these like pivotal points where I struggled significantly.

Because I didn’t know I wanted to go to medical school, I did a bunch of other things first.

Anyway, I really struggled, got into medical school, and there were things where my access needs were not met. Like turns out, I have the kind of brain that needs to sleep at night in order for my brain to work. And so, anyway, there are all these things and I think that having the privilege of a career that is the kind of thing that, like, you know, you could build health insurance for is a thing that, like you can support yourself with.

That was also not good enough to make things work because I also have the kind of brain that needs to do a lot of different things. And I know that about myself now. I have the kind of brain that needs to have a lot of flexibility.

And when that was not met there were things that were really hard. So what I’m doing now is also really hard for different reasons. I have autonomy, I have flexibility, but I really would not be able to be doing what I’m doing without, like a team of people. A lot of people help me with a lot of different things, and that’s how I’m able to be doing what I’m doing now.

Jesse: Thank you for sharing that Mel. And I love that in the responses from both you and Michael, I’m hearing a lot of curiosity about how the mind works in general. It’s just kind of fun to hear. Also, my understanding is Nicole Villemaire our third panelist is with us now. Nicole, are you there?

Nicole: Yes, I’m here.

Jesse: Great to hear you, Nicole. Thanks for being here.

Nicole: I’m late.

Jesse: It happens. So what I’m gonna do is ask you to introduce yourself and then we’re asking the panelists questions now, so I’ll pose that next question to you. So first, Nicole, do you want to introduce yourself?

Nicole: I’m Nicole Villemaire. I work at CDCI.

Jesse: I’m so glad you’re here. And so the question that Mel was just answering that you might have heard a little bit about is could you tell us how you’re currently employed? So what do you do? And also, how did you come into that position?

Nicole: Well, yeah, I can do that. I have three positions. Well, no, four. Full time positions, part time positions. No, they’re not full time. They’re part time. The first one is, I’m a peer specialist for the Howard Center. And I work at Harborview Village. And I work at Marshall’s being a project assistant, and I work at CDCI, working with Winnie Looby, one of our teachers, to teach a class called The Culture of Disability. And then what was the next question?

Jesse: Yeah. So again, that’s a lot. And Michael was also sharing that he’s doing a lot of different things. So how did you come to do all of those different things?

Nicole: Well, my first job was Harborview Village. I got that when I was living with my shared living provider and I grew into working with the elderly, and I worked with them for a while. And then my second job was actually, I was an assistant at CDCI. I was like assistant, like I did… oh, what did I do, Jesse? I did like assistant-like something. And then I actually became a member for the CDCI Community Advisory Council (CAC).

Now I work teaching with Winnie for the class, because I’m such an advocate, and I wanted to continue working for CDCI. And that’s kind of how that came along through the CAC, I think.

And then my peer specialist job. I’ve always had a passion for self-privacy and life journey through my autism and my disability. And I have worked really hard to get back to my career. And it’s actually through Howard.

And we have a program now that’s called peer specialist that I advocated and advocated and advocated for. And I’m very happy to do that role. So my two favorite roles are probably CDCI and peer-specialist.

Jesse: Well, I’m thrilled to hear that we’re one of your favorites. And I also want to say, I really like that you were drawing the distinction, you were saying that there’s a real difference between sort of your jobs and your career.

Nicole: So now I’m also, I think, college alumni. And I went to the college program and I discovered my career through Think College and I’m really glad I got to do that.

Jesse: Right. So I’m gonna just add a couple of things to two of the things that you said are things that I know about because they’re at our center. But others might not. So one was the CAC: that’s our Community Advisory Council. And then the other you said is Think College, which is a college program that we have, to support the students on campus.

Nicole: Yeah.

Jesse: All right. Okay, so thank you all for that. I think we’re getting a sense of your work and your interests and the careers and jobs. A few of you have already shared some of what’s been difficult, but I want us to understand that a little bit better.

So what would each of you say has been the most challenging aspect of finding the job you want?

I’ll go to Mel first.

Mel: I would say that for me — and many of the adult patients that I care for speak about this as well — is workplace culture. If there’s not a norm around talking about how we all have different brains that do things differently and there’s not a norm about how like, yeah, some things are hard and some things come more easily, like, if that’s not normed? Life is really hard.

When that is normed, and when there is transparency around talking about like, yeah, we have all different ways we do the thing, and some things are going to be hard that just makes a huge difference. So I would say, my experience was in working in environments where that was not the norm in healthcare culture.

There’s a lot of — and I don’t think this is specific to health care — it’s like the “fake it until you make it” kind of vibe and “fake it until you make it” is really not very good for health. And I think that that’s what I wish for different.

Jesse: Yeah. Such an excellent point in the hierarchy of working in health care and having a norm that doesn’t support your own health. Michael, would you like to tackle this? What have been some of the most challenging aspects of finding the job that you want?

Michael: Well, it’s hard because there are so many different aspects that make things difficult. So I mean going back a bit in it I think that the aspect of having a career path, and how many different types of obstacles there are at different parts of a career path?

So like, for example, like right now, in the most immediate sense, to work towards an independent clinical license there are obstacles. And the regulations about doing supervised work make it either more expensive to do it over time, or even difficult to do over a longer period of time — stuff that are artificial. But that’s just like one tiny example of a lot of different things.

To do work with people with narrow developmental differences there’s no very clear career path that’s well set up educationally, really, to do that in general.

So I had to get a lot of education around all these other things that give you a license or other kinds of things, that while those things might be useful, they’re not necessarily that helpful. And like once you actually get to the point, at least, if that’s not what you’re doing, the normal version of it, once it gets to the point of actually having work in some of these areas, then I have to figure out what I’m doing without really a lot of support from people who are trying to do the same thing.  Because I’m doing things that have never really been done, and at least the way that I’m doing them.

And so I’ve found that I’ve constantly had to invent ways of doing things.

I’ve constantly basically had situations where I was given tasks that I should do, and had to come up with an entirely new way of doing it, or a way of getting my mind to work around the problem, or to learn something that’s separate from the actual typical expected learning, activity to do it.

And all those things that just add up to a tremendous amount of time and effort.

The lack of clearly supported educational opportunities and some of the things that I’ve been more interested in over time has made it, like, you know, quite challenging.

But okay, so aside from that sort of process aspect, like right now, I would say, my biggest sort of practical, like disability, the functional limitation in my everyday situation is my level of energy and ability to even predict where I can focus, and how much and plan exactly what I can do when, and count on my ability.

Sometimes certain kinds of tasks that I have to do are just so consuming for me that if there are barriers to doing the other things I need to do it just gets in the way.

For example, last year therapy notes were a big problem, and I just couldn’t really keep up with it, and then I had to stop seeing clients for a while. And then I had to sort of restart. And other kinds of barriers like that which I don’t really think have to be there.

But they’re all different little things, and I don’t always know what to expect before I do something. So, not knowing what to expect, then the expectation that I should have known and planned for it by all these external resources.

I think one barrier is the idea that it is not okay to ask for a retrospective accommodation. There’s no legitimate reason for that, like there’s no legitimate reason why, you can’t say, “Look! My disability caused this problem and I didn’t ask for an accommodation, because I didn’t know I needed it.”

And you can deal with the consequences to deal with it, or things like that. And so sometimes people tolerate that kind of thing, even though educational institutions will make excuses, for example, of like, we don’t have to do it, so we won’t do it. It’s like, but you could, and it could be free for you to do it. And so there’s lots of this sort of like ableist expectation they run into where it’s like, partly like you actually run into the barrier of peoples sort of fake perception of what equality is, of equal opportunity, which isn’t always the best concept for disabilities.

Like, “Oh, well, you can do the job exactly how it’s described, or you can’t, and we have to choose the person who can do it exactly as it’s set up, because that’s fair.” And so I think we’re dealing with things thatwere helpful for civil rights overall over time but maybe now need to be improved a little and changed, and the attitudes need to change.

So the one last thing I’ll say about this is it’s the uncertainty and the unpredictability. That’s one of the biggest obstacles for me now.

As I do things to potentially adapt to maybe a better way of doing things or a better career path at a given time, I have to really weigh well, what are the risks of it? What happens if something really unexpected happens, and how much resources do I have to start over and start over again in some different form if I take a risk?

So like, let’s say I were to take a full time faculty job at UVM.

Well, what if I crash?

What happens if I let’s say, move somewhere?

What if I went to a doctoral program in another state, and had to totally relocate, and I didn’t know what to expect? Whether I would have psychological difficulties from being exposed to new people, whether I would have the medical care I need in the situation, and how difficult it would be to get it.

And so all that unexpectedness and uncertainty combined with all the time it takes to solve all the problems really is I think the biggest consuming thing about it.

Jesse: Thank you for sharing that level of detail. I’m sure that that hits and resonates with a lot of folks that are listening to this. And it’s a good segue to the next question. But I’m going to hang on to that because, Nicole, I also want to ask you: thinking about, you know, you shared several different jobs that you’re doing in terms of, I think your career path and thinking about what you’re passionate about.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face trying to do the work that you really want to do? And also you mentioned peer support?

Nicole: Some of the challenges for me are learning, like the trainings and the computer and learning how to do my job. Well, I mean, I have a learning disability on top of autism. And it affects my brain definitely and I struggle with like being able to process and break down information, I struggle with understanding the concept. When my brain is distracted I have trouble focusing at work.

I use this program called DBT, called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Because I have a lot of behavioral struggles on top of it all and that really helps me to figure out, am I out of green and my other yellow or am I out of red?

I use like the stop sign and that helps me to figure out how is my work day going to be going, because this is a new program.

But this is my only second job, and what I love to do. And it’s still a new job. And there’s a lot of like unknowns of like: What’s next? What did you do each day, or what? What do you come into work for? Like if it’s not team meeting day, then what are you supposed to do?

So we’re like creating the program.

In each of my jobs, I’ve always had unknowns, and I’ve had to work around like how to stabilize my emotions, to be able to better effectively understand and develop information, to be successful at working at my career, and I really appreciate the college, because I actually did my internship at Green Mountain Self-Advocates.

It was my passion, it was what I wanted to do. And I really thank Bryan Dague for all of that, because he found out that self-advocacy is my life journey, and I think that really helped me understand like going to college, understand where my career path was and what I wanted to be doing in my life. And between CDCI and peer specialists, I love it. So thank you.

Jesse: Well thank you for saying that, Nicole. And I think Bryan is here in the meeting, so I’m sure he loved hearing that as well. You know, thinking about all three of your responses, I mean, they’re a similar theme. So you’re all talking about just a lot of things that you had to do on your own.

And even if it’s in a career that others have done, you really had to do a lot of work to make your own support through it. And also I’m hearing I need to focus on you know, emotional health and wellness and mental health from each of you as well but so, hearing from me to you that you had to do a lot of things for yourself.

Okay. My next question is, is there any support that you wish you had that you didn’t have access to at the time?

And, Nicole, you were just sharing some of the supports that you did have, I wonder if you could answer this new question about maybe additional support that you wish you had?

Nicole: I wish I had more. Like it was always tough for me, because I’ve had two providers, and like how stuff. But it’s really hard, because whenever I want to like work on like a meeting, or my career, or something that’s different than normal day life, I really have to depend on myself to figure out how to. I do have employment advisors at Howard, but they’ve changed so much that I have to really advocate for myself.

And I wish people would just know what was going on like, and they would be able to support me, you know, understanding my goals and development goals. But I really had to train everyone to learn, to understand my disability and my differences, and I had to retrain and retrain and retrain.

And because things change so much, and I wish I could just have people like know what I need support withbut it’s not always that simple, because life has changed so much over the years. So yeah, was there something else that I missed?

Jesse: No, no, that’s, I think that’s a good example of support. I mean you talked about some of the certainly, some of the challenges and I wonder if there’s any other supports, as you’re looking back, you wish you had access to now.

Nicole: I wish I had been able to like, understand, like how to deal with my behavior better, and how like not to get fired from a job. When I had housing transitions and all that, and I wish I had the skills and the knowledge to just focus on the moment or focus on taking a break from a job.

And I think that that’s something that has helped me now, which I will take a break if there’s a housing change or transition change that I didn’t do before. I guess I’ll go with that.

Jesse: And Mel. How about you? Are there supports that you wish you had on your career?

Mel: I think that just like big picture, not just in my career path, but like life growing up, not knowing about how my brain worked. I think, like neurodiversity affirming mental health care is really important. And I think there are a lot of neuro-normative concepts in a lot of different types of health care professionals, and any professional that is giving them that there’s one right way to do. The thing is not helpful, so I wish I had access to that earlier.

So there’s that. And then I would say in the employment space, I mean, I mentioned briefly that, like I do, you know, have a kind of brain that needs to be doing lots of things. One of the other things I do, besides practicing as a physician is, I do trainings around neuro-inclusive employment.

And so neuro-inclusive employment is like not just making accommodations for people’s access needs.

It’s like, how do you design spaces that work for people with all types of brains than just offering using universal design principles, using multiple different things? So I would say, in an employment space, I wish that I had worked in places where there was the flexibility and a culture I would access. And I think I would press pause there.

Jesse: Well, thank you. So, Michael, you shared ways that you had to do a lot on your own and blaze a trail. I’m wondering if there’s a specific support, maybe at a specific time that was just missing that, would it, you think would be helpful?

Michael: I think part of the thing that’s challenging for me is I’ve done types of work that don’t necessarily come as natural to me because I had access to those career pathways and I thought that would be easier than it was and that I could just do some of the stuff.  And I wasn’t necessarily correctabout like what would be required of me emotionally and mentally to do those kinds of things.

But from a point of view, so from 1 point of view of support, is kind of like, I think, Nicole was saying about like having access to people who actually understand what the experiences are that can maybe give a certain level of guidance and feedback, at least on overcoming similar barriers. So I think one of the things that’s hardest for, been hardest for me and is still hardest for me is accessing information that’s relevant and helps me predict, like what I might have to do in a specific situation, to be successful.

With how I process things, it’s very hard to find much there. There’s a lot of very vague stuff that exists around different ways of processing information. There’s not really that much, I think, resources or research around, like the details of specific aspects of mental function, and how to handle them in specific situations that really drills down enough to actually what the processing issue is, how to address it, how to apply it in different situations.

Let’s say I were to teach two courses at UVM, let’s say hypothetically.

Well, I could ask maybe Jesse, who’s taught two courses before. He might have experience with his narrow type in terms of what it takes for him to do that, and what it took for him to adapt to do that and stuff. But he wouldn’t be likely to know what it would take for me to adopt to the same type of, you know, external demand.

And so if I’m going into a situation, it’s one thing for me to ask what I need. If I know in a relatively specified ways what to expect, what’s gonna work, I could say like, “Hey, you know, I know a number of people who really try to do similar things to really a similar level of ability in the situation and similar disabilities, and they had this experience, they needed this much stuff, I think I probably do, too. Can you set it up this way?”

But it’s another to have to do something that’s higher risk.

And then go maybe back to the same person or employer again and say, I learned half of the things I need to do to be successful at this, maybe if I do this for another year, I’ll learn another half of the things I need to do to be better.

And if you have learned all those things to adapt to that one situation and get to the point where you’re starting to do a little better and then someone’s just fed up that’s unfortunately some of my experience. So in terms of support resources, it goes around a lot of different things where, having people who have some knowledge what to expect would be helpful.

I think the other thing that’s sort of challenging in a way, is communicating abilities as well as disability and stuff. So a lot of how we’re supposed to communicate disability is based on success doing things. And if we’ve had barriers that are outside of actual disability, we have to, getting that background is hard to say like, I could probably do this really well if we figure out how to do it.

That’s not how résumés are written and stuff. But let’s say if I go to, let’s say a Voc Rehab counselor or something and they know nothing about what I’m saying and what to expect, it’s very difficult to get anything useful. And there’s lots of useful things that I could get from an agency that would have some resources, maybe to support me in an employment situation.

If they were reasonably targeted, but they probably won’t be if I go to that agency. And I’m not saying something even specific about Vermont. But like, I’m just saying like, it’s a generality. It’s almost impossible to find resources in certain ways.

And the other problem is people don’t understand my disabilities, equally a lot of the time. People don’t understand the circumstances I’m going into, either who is there to potentially help.

So like, I use the example of asking you about like what it takes to teach a couple of classes at UVM. If I go to, let’s say a therapist, or I go to a Voc Rehab person, or I go to a doctor, or whatever and say, I’m gonna want to try to do this, and I need support and figuring out how to be successful in the situation. And there’s no knowledge space across a lot of the different fields that exist, how to support people in general, or what the culture of those institutions are, or that kind of thing.

So part of the problem is because, like, you know to be a human service person they have to get a master’s degree in like a specific thing. And you don’t. That’s it. It’s not easy to change careers into it. It’s not easy to have all those different experiences. And anyway, so my point about support, though still, is that, like the knowledge, would be really helpful.

The other thing, like resource-wise, like if I didn’t have to worry about money that would be big.

I understand that’d be big for a lot of people. But like that would be the biggest thing that would make a difference for me in a lot of ways.

And the third thing really is learning resources.

So part of the thing is, I need to be able to adapt to finding what the best things for me to do are and where I’m successful, and where I have strength and build a lot of background and things sometimes to maybe have a little extra resources mentally to go into a situation.

So for me, I’d really also like access to as much education as I need at the pace that I can do it. We’d probably make a real difference and overall, me like ultimately finding a really stable, clear career path that I’d be really good at. So like that would be the other sort of resource that I think would make a difference.

If I could go back and do a whole other, undergraduate degree and worth of stuff at a reasonable pace, and have my cost of living covered at the same time and then go and really take all the stuff I’ve learned and apply it to things that I could really do better than what I do on it.

Jesse: Thank you all. On the heels of wanting to go back and get another degree, I’d like to go back to the top of the hour and have a whole other hour with our panelists. We’re almost near the end of our time. And I would love to squeeze one more question in. So:

Given the theme or the title for this training, this community panel, what do autistic people want families to know about employment?

You’ve shared a lot from your own experiences in terms of your own pathways, the challenges that you face,the different opportunities. What the setbacks had on your mental health as well as just being able to do the things that you want to do now with your jobs. So I’d love it if each of you could take, you know just a minute or two to respond.

What are some ways that you’ve seen families provide support to autistic people?

This could be you or somebody else that you wish more people knew about. So Mel, can I have you start?

Mel: Yes, I would say that like one of the gems, one of the many gems that that I think people need to be aware of is the Vermont Assist Technology Program, the VATP. It’s free to work with them. They are an incredible resource.

That like as a parent, you know my 6-year-old has already had this technology consult when she was 4, we started because it makes a difference. I did not have my first technology consult until I was 38. So like that, I think that that’s, if I’m going to pick one thing tangible to walk away: let it be assistive technology.

Jesse: I love that. And not just because two of those assisted technology specialists were here at our center!

Michael, how about you? What are some ways that you’ve seen families provide support to autistic people that you wish more people knew about?

Michael: Well, so I mean, one thing is I think is what they’re saying about people with knowledge and experience and stuff. I think a lot of cases where just having exposure to adults with similar disabilities and experience and really learning from those directions, and trying to make some sort of sense of like what some of the pathways are that work in that way, especially if there’s similar interests and stuff. And how to prepare a little bit.

I don’t think I had a lot of that particularly. I mean, maybe in subtler, undiagnosed ways, that’s probably some of the benefits I got from my own parents but as a person with disabilities who’s talked to parents and sometimes provided support in navigating things, I think it’s been really useful to bring that.

And I’ve also found a lot of other situations where I feel like I’ve, you know, talked with people in parent groups, and they don’t really recognize that they need adults with disabilities at their table and talking with them and having these conversations. So they’re just learning about the experiences of other parents coping with, like the education system. But there’s a lot more, I think, that could be brought into good advocacy for kids.

Yes. If there was more adult experiences at the table and in those discussions I think it would help. So I think that’s maybe one of the easiest things to change for children in Vermont that we could do, and also even special educators and stuff like that.

The other thing I would say is that our interests and what we care about is super important. And certainly on the autism spectrum it’s well known that we are very focused on what we’re interested in and that kind of thing in general, but to really have support in the development of those things to the extent possible… My parents made a lot of efforts in that regard and a lot of useful efforts in that regard. And I think that’s one of the best things that my parents were able to bring to the situation. So I think together, those probably would be two of the most important things.

Jesse: Great, thank you. And having connections with adults with autism, with other autistic adults seems like a great hand off to ask our peer advocate. Nicole, what’s one thing that you’ve seen families do to provide support for autistic people? It could be for you or somebody else.

Nicole: One thing that families could support autistic people is getting the schooling that they need. My public school was hard, it was rough, it was tough. And then I ended up going to a boarding school for people with different disabilities, and that really helped me grow and learn and succeed in my own life, and learn to adapt to being a self-advocate and to grow and learn. And as a child, well, I had to like, learn to be independent. Well, like in high school, I had to learn to be independent away from home, and I think that that really helped me to be a self-advocate.

I also want to thank Green Mountain Self-Advocates, because they have helped many people with disabilities to be self-advocates, and be peers, and learn and grow and successful, like to social and employment and learning skills to develop.

You have to be your own advocate to be able to get what you need in life. And sometimes your parents aren’t always able to give you that and be there for you to guide you through the journey. So you have to learn to align yourself and your own disability to make a change in the world and grow and learn.

Jesse: Well, thank you, Nicole. Thank you to all of our panelists. Mel, Michael and Nicole, I really appreciate you sharing. I also want to thank our audience. Thank you for being here and being so attentive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *