Working on the Spectrum
By Cameron Macht
As the awareness and understanding of autism has increased over time, so has the prevalence of the disease. The Center for Disease Control estimated that about 1 in every 68 children in the United States has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which was “roughly 30 percent higher than the estimate for 2008 (1 in 88), 60 percent higher than the estimate for 2006 (1 in 110), and 120 percent higher than the estimates for 2000 (1 in 150).”
Though data are harder to find as children age on the spectrum, research has shown that young adults with an ASD have lower rates of labor force participation and postsecondary education. Data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study suggest that young adults with ASD are less likely to go on to school or work than most other disability groups, with less than 35 percent attending college and less than 55 percent holding paid employment during the first 6 years after high school.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services
DEED’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) team has always worked with people on the autism spectrum, but in recent years, DEED has made it a priority to become more autism-friendly by investing more resources in training counselors. According to Abbie Wells-Herzog, DEED’s autism specialist, every VRS team in Minnesota has someone who has gained extra expertise in ASD.
About 2 years ago, VRS specialists across the state received certification from the Autism Society of Minnesota after attending a 2½ day training session. They have followed that up with monthly meetings with experts from the Autism Society, sharing what they learned with other VRS team members. The results have been significant: DEED’s VRS team assisted 1,040 individuals with ASD in 2012, then 1,252 clients in 2013, and 1,873 people in 2014 — an 80 percent increase in just three years.
Wells-Herzog notes that services may be delivered differently for people with ASD. Traditionally, clients are assessed with pencil and paper or on the computer. However, people on the spectrum can have a hard time putting themselves in a position they haven’t been in before. They may do better with hands-on assessments or job shadowing where they are able to see what an occupation actually does.
People with ASD often have sensory issues including lights, temperatures, or textures. DEED’s VRS team can work to make the situation more autism-friendly — such as using lamps if a person is bothered by bright lights — so that they can see the best person rather than someone under stress. “Every single person is different. You have to assess a little differently, plan a little differently,” said Wells-Herzog. “People with autism have wonderful abilities, we work hard to help them find and develop them.”
To that end, DEED services are very individual — some people with ASD prefer routine rather than change. They may be very good at doing a few things over and over, while others might need the exact opposite climate. Wells-Herzog noted that they have worked with academically-gifted and detail-oriented people who have become engineers, but also with creative people who have become pastry chefs. “The most important thing is the person likes it, it’s important to them, and they’re good at it,” remarked Wells-Herzog.
Either way, VRS is focused on serving clients with ASD the best way possible. You can get to our web site page directly at mn.gov/deed/job-seekers/disabilities. You may also contact Wells-Herzog at
firstname.lastname@example.org. She can direct you to the nearest help from this agency.
1 Community Report on Autism, 2014. cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/states/comm_report_autism_2014.pdf
2 Postsecondary Education and Employment Among Youth With an Autism Spectrum Disorder. pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/6/1042