by Jill Wilbur Smith
Earlier this summer I came across a staggering statistic. According to many sources*, an estimated 83 percent of adults with Asperger’s are unemployed.
I stumbled across this information on the Internet a few days after Emily returned home from college. My initial reaction was panic. “Why didn’t I know this?!” I thought. “Why haven’t we been working on this for the past six years?”
I spent the next 24 hours in a funk, keeping this tidbit to myself while I processed what it could mean for our family. I found blog posts and websites that listed the best degrees for people with Asperger’s, most of which don’t recommend English or Political Science, Emily’s major and minor.
I walked around with a worry knot in the pit of my stomach imagining the worst.
Then I got real. My sensible husband helped pull me back from the brink of despair. “What about people with Asperger’s who have a college degree?” he asked. “And who’s the source for the unemployment data?” Good questions. I went back to the Internet.
That search uncovered…nothing. No statistics on how many people with Asperger’s graduate from college. In fact, I was unable to find the original source for the 83 percent statistic, although it appears on many blogs and websites.
So, I decided to ignore the online babel and do what I’ve always done with Emily. Follow my instincts and believe in my heart that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to. Remind myself that her disorder is classified as autism spectrum for a reason. No two people with Asperger’s are exactly the same.
What happened next surprised and overwhelmed me. Emily got a job. Within two months of graduating from college, she landed a full-time job.
I love the story of how she did it. Here’s how it happened.
At my suggestion, she decided to enroll with a temporary employment agency in the hopes of landing an office job while she searched for full-time work. (I offer this advice to anyone looking for a job. It’s served me well in my career.)
On a Monday, she met with an agency in downtown Minneapolis, submitted her resume and took the basic screening tests the agency requires.
On Tuesday, she called her references to see if she could continue to use them for her job search.
One of those calls was to a former Minnesota state representative on whose campaign she volunteered in 2008. He runs a family-owned insurance company near our home. And, he just happened to be looking for a customer service representative to replace someone who was leaving that week. He invited Emily to interview for the job.
On Wednesday, she interviewed.
She started the job on Friday.
Did Emily “beat the odds” of finding employment? Maybe. Or maybe the statistics on the Internet are outdated, untrue or have been misconstrued. Maybe projecting the future for my beautifully complex daughter has nothing to do with numbers, but only with our ongoing journey to explore the many iterations of life that lay before her.
*I found one reference to a 2001 study in the U.K., but not the study itself. If you know the original source for this unemployment data, I’d love to know about it!