“One in 88 can’t wait.” This is the newest rallying call of autism advocacy groups. The phrase is provocative, almost tinged with panic. Our society and government must recognize the gravity of the one in 88 number, and act accordingly, with real solutions that directly address the needs of such a large sector of our population. But this new wave of need does not have to feel like a disaster in the making. Not if we think differently. Not if we realize that one in 88 can’t wait for their lives to begin. One in 88 can’t wait to learn, one in 88 can’t wait to work.
The Community College Consortium for Autism and Intellectual Disability is turning the challenge of ASD into opportunity, by turning to the students with autism and intellectual disabilities — who are already on community college campuses — and asking them “What can you do? How can we, the community colleges develop your skills and interests so that you are a participant rather than a bystander?”
The Community College Consortium knows that skills and real jobs are not a given for anyone today. We all need training that is relevant and useful. How do students with ASD and intellectual disabilities acquire valuable vocational experiences if they are viewed as a marginal, burdensome, iffy group? If employers shy away from hiring these guys because they have no way of knowing what specific skills they have? Employers need to think about what is good for their business. They want some certainty about a potential hire, besides a resume or a job interview, particularly if a candidate has communication, cognitive or social skill challenges. To this end, CCCAID has just partnered with Thompson Hospitality to create certification programs in the food services industry. Using a curriculum created with Thompson’s actual job expectations and requirements, students on the autism spectrum and with intellectual disabilities will be trained in precise hospitality industry skills. These students will work towards a certificate in hospitality, an industry gold standard that they can take to a potential employer and remove any uncertainty from the hiring process.
CCCAID understands that there is another way to look at what “One in 88 can’t wait” means. There are so many adults with autism who can’t wait to start their lives — meaning, they are excited by the future. Who are ready and able to work — who just need programs that accommodate their learning and training needs. The Consortium’s partnership with Thompson Hospitality will give them the tools and the assurance to get there.
Now imagine if other industries could think as Thompson does — medical, technological, childcare, agricultural… — and if all of our country’s community colleges joined with the Consortium to take these very natural next steps. One in 88 starts to look more like a solution, a boon to the workforce, rather than a burden on the world, doesn’t it?