The late columnist William Safire liked to tell the chestnut from the 1950s about Princess Margaret and the matchmaker. As Safire recounted: “A Jewish matchmaker had the idea of matching up poor Sammy—a nebbish and a schlemiel—with Princess Margaret, then the world’s most eligible woman. Sammy’s mother would not hear of it: The Princess could not cook and was not Jewish. After weeks of persuading, with the matchmaker showing how the alliance with British royalty would help Israel, the mother gave her grudging approval. The matchmaker heaved a sigh of relief and said, ‘Now for the hard part’.”
Now forthe hard part: one might say the same about the path of neurodiversity employment today. Not too long ago, the idea that adults with autism and other neurodiverse conditions should have jobs, should not be consigned to their homes, attending day programs or living on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), had limited currency. That’s changed over the past two decades, as both autism’s demographics and autism’s role in popular culture have exploded, and ideas on disability have shifted.
But as longtime disability agencies, such as the ARC and Goodwill have ramped up their job placement efforts, and new neurodiversity workforce intermediaries are entering the field, the difficulties in making and sustaining placements (the gaps between theory and practice) are every day becoming clearer. To get a better idea of these difficulties as we move into 2023, we can travel to Sacramento, California and hear from Eric Steward, the director of the Transformative Autism Program (TAP).
TAP is a program of Meristem, a center of autism activity in the Sacramento Valley and Northern California. Funded by the state of California, TAP’s mission is a direct one: outreach to employers in California, partner with them to build structured and intentional employment programs, place and retain adults with autism and related conditions into jobs.