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I think about these statistics each and every day. They haunt me like a bad dream, and float in and out of my consciousness continually. I am driven by pure selfishness to see that these statistics do not define my son. I am the mother of an incredible young man. Marc is disciplined, hardworking, congenial, and driven to succeed. However, he has one obstacle standing in his way to long-term, meaningful employment: Marc has autism. Sadly, this single characteristic will completely overshadow all of his incredible skills and attributes in many areas of his life, especially when it comes to establishing a career.
I have three children in their 20’s and, like most parents, I want my grown children to find work that they are passionate about—jobs that not only provide them income, but also get them out of bed every morning with enthusiasm and commitment. Together with my husband, we are raising taxpayers; these are individuals we hope will work hard in a meaningful job and enjoy a rich and full life. Unfortunately, the world at large does not share our vision. As difficult as it is for a typical young adult to find his or her place in the world, a person with disabilities is that much more challenged.
Our family lives in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. But, before you roll your eyes and think, “No wonder this young man cannot find a job,” I would like to tell you that Detroit is not what you have been led to believe on the national news. There are many opportunities here. Our area is slowly growing and its residents are committed to seeing Detroit revitalized and reborn. With that said, the economics of our area do increase the difficulty in finding employment for a person with disabilities. This is a national problem.
Few employers seem to realize that individuals with learning differences can bring myriad skills and talents to the workplace. In fact, it has been statistically proven that individuals with disabilities increase the overall quality of the workplace. Walgreen’s, KPMG, Merck, and SunTrust Banks have all experienced this firsthand. Each of these businesses has achieved high levels of success by employing individuals without typical resumes. For example, at one of the warehouses that Walgreen’s operates, 40% of the staff members have disabilities. It is one of their highest-producing facilities in the country. All of the employees work together and bring their skills and talents to the workplace to make this facility an incredible success.
April is Autism Awareness Month. This means 30 days during which parents, educators, organizations, and all those touched by this lifelong disability try to teach others about living a life with autism. I am hoping that within the next 30 days, there will be an employer that will look at my son’s resume and be persuaded to hire him because of his ABILITIES, not the things he cannot do. My son, like so many of his peers, is capable of much more than sweeping a floor, folding laundry, clearing a table, or watering plants. My son is bright, disciplined, hardworking, driven to succeed, and congenial, and one day he WILL be a taxpayer.
Andrea Storch Gruber and her family reside in Southfield, Michigan. She is a member of the statewide group, Parents Raising Taxpayers. Most recently, Andrea helped to organize a Community Conversation to bring light to the issue of employment for individuals with disabilities. Her son, Marc, has participated in Atzmayim, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s Tikvah Vocational Program, which receives funding from the Ruderman Family Foundation. His resume and visual portfolio are available upon request!