Vision of Autism Employment Achievers Enterprise Singapore

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About a year after Pathlight School opened a café, I spoke to a famous Singaporean with great influence in the autism community [no prizes for guessing who]. I mentioned that jobs in the café (as cashiers, chefs and waiters) are not suitable for people with high functioning autism or Aspergers (a.k.a. Aspies). Instead, Aspies are more suited to slower-paced jobs with time for reflection and planning, such as programming and construction. She told me that she would take my feedback into account, and that was the last I heard from her on this matter. Instead, the café idea continued to be touted as a great example of how to employ people with autism.

I found it highly dissatisfactory that Aspies are being placed in low-paying, low-skilled jobs that they could not do well, and which will be replaced by machines anyway. Neither does the idea of relying on the charity of people, selling artwork or giving theater performances appeal to me. If this is the best that the autism experts can think of, then I can’t rely on them. In 2012, I read about Specialisterne, a company which specializes in hiring people with autism. They are not a charity. And they are profitable. I knew that I have found a gem of a strategy of providing employment for Aspies.

 

However, when I tried to get something started, I found that there are many obstacles. The lack of funding is certainly the biggest, but the attitude of some people with autism also proves challenging. Fortunately, I believe that it is only a matter of time before the exploding population of adult autistics creates enough frustrated parents to start a viable project.

1 in 68 children in the U.S.A. have autism, each of which may need as much as US$2.4 million over their lifetime. As these children grow up, their parents worried about how these children will survive after their own demise. Some parents improvise solutions such as annualities, trust funds and financial agreements with charities to care for their children. But for those parents who are not so wealthy, or who want to provide a more meaningful existance to their children, more viable solutions are needed.


I call this project the Autism Achievers Enterprise (AAE). Its goal is to provide higher-functioning Aspies find meaningful and well-paying employment in a realistic manner. This is a very vague goal, so to give it a push I shall make a bold prediction: The AAE will be incorporated by 2025. This is a time when many Aspie children have grown up and are looking for jobs in a world that overrun by cheap machine and third-world country labour.

It will be funded by a coalition of the willing – probably 3 to 15 parents, who will sit on the board of directors. They will tend to come from a business or financial background. Other parents who do not contribute capital may elect to take on paid or voluntary roles in training and management.

 

The business model of the AAE will most likely be based on profiling Aspies to see what skills and interests suit them, and then training these Aspies in the specialized skills that will allow them to do the job even better than NeuroTypicals. On-the-job training will form a large part of the process.

It will not just be technical skills that Aspies get trained in. Aspies with unsuitable work behaviors may be conditionally accepted if they undergo training to make themselves suitable for employment.

Academic qualifications will be mostly irrelevant beyond secondary school education - it will be the actual job performance and work attitude that counts. Simply put, an Aspie's work performance must be at least equal to that of an NeuroTypical or a machine replacement.

Aspies who receive training will have to sign a bond to work for the company, perhaps for 20 years or even for life. [Do understand that the parents want to ensure that their children's well-being even after they pass on.] The salary is likely to be 30% below market rate in order for the AAE to break even on the very high training costs. On the plus side, the AAE is not focused on enriching shareholders. Staff (both Aspie and NeuroTypical) can expect generous bonuses if the company does well financially.


The AAE will most likely take on a business which is scalable, able to keep up with advanced technology, able to let Aspies express their talents and not requiring heavy front-line customer support. Examples would be a research lab, product design house, game development center, (virtual reality) studio, automated ocean farming, space travel agencies, robotics manufacturing and airborne drone security services.

The AAE will comprise of an eco-system of 4 tiers of Aspies: management/supervisors, engineers/creators, technicians/assistants and trainees/apprentices. Parents will be directors, managers, trainers and mentors. Their goal will ideally be to create a capable team of management-level Aspies who eventually manage the AAE by themselves.


The AAE will be mostly a parent-driven project. The government may give some tax breaks and a small amount of money, but will otherwise keep its distance.

Pathlight and other special needs schools will most likely combine forces to create sheltered workshops offering low-level jobs (perhaps with MINDS, NTUC or some other NGO's involvement). This type of enterprise will cater to the lower functioning Aspies. They will most likely not be involved in the AAE.

Educational institutes will play a more important role - such as allowing Aspie apprentices to borrow their training facilities and to sending students to collaborate with Aspies as part of their final year projects.

Time will tell if this prediction comes true. But even if I am wrong, it will probably become the seed of many other initiatives and ideas. Please feel free to share this with interested parties, and please do attribute it to iautistic.com. Thank you.

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