Autism at work-- or not
Updated: Apr 2
I smiled as I enjoyed video clips that Mar-Vic shared. Ico was dancing to music. So handsome. So content. The happiness made my heart smile.
Mar-Vic and I each have sons on the autism spectrum. Both are 29. We agree that it is just wonderful when they are happy.
One in 44 people has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In Guam, there are approximately 500 people who have been diagnosed with this condition.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts communication which affects social skills. A twin to autism is OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) which helps tame the anxiety that soars through their veins.
The Guam Department of Education gets around $50 million a year to work with students with disabilities. Early intervention in Special Education helps families identify, guide, and support our youngest.
Elementary and secondary schools facilitate Individualized Education Plans through regular meetings with families, teachers, administrators and SPED specialists. The guidance helps the students best realize their potential.
Students should be in integrated settings instead of resource rooms. The modeling is powerful. All of the students learn about helping and compassion.
Before you know it, the student is slated to graduate from high school. The problem is that often, they are not prepared for post-school life.
That is where the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation steps in. DVR is an agency under the Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities.
DVR counselors help students identify what they like to do. They find job opportunities where the students spend time at the job site. This process should start in middle school.
It will take that long to find a site, to get training in place, to find a job coach, to help your child acclimate, to nurture a supportive work environment.
Our children can stay in high school until the of 22. Those with severe mental health disabilities can receive DVR support until the age of 29.
None of this is easy. DVR will develop an Individualized Plan for Employment that will guide the processes. But nothing is secure. Our counselor, Alvin Ancheta, was our guardian angel. He insisted that Eric belong and that Eric work. We give thanks for Alvin every day.
The U.S. Congress has passed monumental legislation determining that every person shall be given the opportunity to work, learn and play. Supreme Court decisions have determined we belong – even when our abilities are different. The Office of Civil Rights has insisted that we have rights, too.
In Guam, we have local laws that state 2 percent of agency budgets shall support those with severe mental health disabilities. The current budget law includes funding for job coaches for those over the age of 29. It is known that DVR has returned federal funds. When families hear this, disbelief reverberates.
Well, there is a new sheriff in town. Joseph Cameron is the DVR state director. I am betting that he will be able to revitalize working partnerships that will welcome our children – even past the age of 29. I am betting that he will help businesses understand the return-on-investment when hiring our stars. Their reliability and determination are clear. Their insistence on following processes is an asset.
It seems easier to keep the children home. That is okay if they want to stay home. But Ico would love to return to work where his work was applauded.
There are so many who would really like to be employed, to have the sense of accomplishment, to make money, to contribute to the household, to be accepted, to belong.
We are simply asking for a hand, not a handout.
Gosh, when you see Ico dance or cook or when you see Eric rake or complete a puzzle, you just know that God works in mysterious ways.
But there is no mystery in businesses accommodating differences so that our kids can work. Please hire us.
All the puzzle pieces are there – potential employees, training support, job coaches – let DISID DVR or the Developmental Disabilities Council know your doors are open. You will be happy you did. So, will we.
Aline Yamashita is a mom, a teacher and former senator. She served in the 31st and 32 Guam Legislatures. Send feedback to email@example.com.