If I had to name the most imperative issues we should be discussing during this "awareness" month, without a doubt, employment opportunities would be in the top five. There are so many autistic individuals who are highly capable, and undoubtedly employable, but predisposed judgments and misinformation is an obstacle to finding gainful employment.
Additionally, parents and family members may have difficulty in maintaining jobs due to some of the significant needs our kids (and/or family members) may have. For purposes of this post, I will offer the perspective of my own experience, in an effort to stick to what I know, and not have to offer too much speculation or hypothetical scenarios.
I'm not going to bore you with the particulars of the path that led me to the original stay at home mom gig. It's a long, boring story, but it was not a choice to which I was opposed. Let's just say, once upon a time, MAC had a noble notion, and the means to keep us comfortable. Fast forward to a life with three kids, a crap ton of autism related expenses, a move to the suburbs, my own failure to keep the spending within our means, and a crashing economy that led to an abrupt halt to that comfortable life, and the game changed. We reached a point where we desperately needed a second income, but I had been out of the workforce for almost fifteen years, and with no one to help with child care, we were pretty much trapped in a financially suffocating situation. MAC urged me to find a job, and I urged him to find a child care solution. After school programs exist for average families, but when there are special needs involved, the cost of such care is dramatically higher...higher, in fact, than what I could have earned, with no currently marketable skills. The workforce had passed me by in the fifteen years I had spent raising my kids. And let's also consider, I'm really not one to trust anyone with my minimally verbal kid...so to help with the bills, I took the part time job in The Land of Hairnet. Little did I know, much of MAC's urging to get me employed was because he had an exit plan. But that's an overtold, no longer relevant story.
Fast forward again, to an ended marriage, a need to sell the house to divide the marital assets, and a new life, as a single mom, still, without currently marketable skills. I'm not a stupid woman. I am intelligent, well spoken, (albeit with the thick accent of a Brooklyn street thug😂😂), I can navigate my way around a computer, and I'm not afraid of hard work. But there's no college degree, no specific training, and there's STILL the issue of child care. It doesn't matter that my kids are teens. Spartacus still needs trustworthy, knowledgeable care. The girl is old enough to take on the responsibility, but that means she would have to sacrifice what's left of her own childhood in the name of our survival. And don't forget, teens need supervision. I trust my kid, but I'm also on top of what she's doing. Send me off to work full time and she no longer sees her friends, has no social life, and can't have a job of her own. Who knows what kind of rebellion the sacrifice would lead to? I once read an article about how it is more beneficial to take some kind of leave from full time work during a child's teen years than it is to take a leave when they are infants, because during adolescence, a child is even more in need of a parent's guidance. I wholeheartedly agree. So the part time job with the crappy pay was my chosen option.
In steps AGMBB, who paid for my real estate class, and paid for my title insurance class. With his help and lots of support and encouragement from him and La Befana, I got licensed for both industries. My opportunities have expanded. But without money to invest in the websites that bring business, it's a slow crawl to dig out of a super tight financial hole. I have been salvaged from that cursed hairnet, (please don't get me wrong...it is a very noble job, I just felt my own potential being sucked out of me by a job that really had no possibility for worthwhile advancement), but remain barely able to keep my head above water, and some months, being sucked under until some miracle of good fortune, (or loving family and friends), comes through to bring me to the surface. I have applied for all the help, and have received some, and MAC takes care of his financial responsibilities. But life in the suburbs, with two teenagers is not cheap.
I am not telling this story as a complaint about my life. And I'm not telling it because my own life is so terrible. To be honest, there are some days we are rolling nickels to put gas in the car, but we are still extremely happy, just living life on our own terms. Some months we lose the cable and the wifi, but we still have mobile data, and everyone survives with that. We've had heat all winter and never had the lights shut off. We've had some days where I was worried about feeding the kids, and I have skipped quite a few meals to make sure they would have enough, (although you would never know it from the size of my ass😂😂😂😂). The girl will sometimes end up in a puddle on the floor in her bedroom because she is so tired of wearing the same eight shirts, and then I make a phone call to my family, or her grandparents, (the ex in laws, who I talk to periodically), and somebody always comes through to help. She tries to buy herself something with each paycheck, but as a student, her hours are limited, and the paychecks aren't big. Plus, she helps with the bills, when she can. So we manage, and for the most part, we are happy. There is great value in being grateful for what we have, and not wallowing in what we don't have.
Again, I'm not telling you all this to draw sympathy. You all know how gross and icky it makes me feel when people are "so sorry". I'm telling this story because there are SO MANY of us who could tell a similar story. Single parents with no help, couples who once depended on two incomes and had to give up one, so one parent could provide full time child care, parents who have lost a job because an employer could not allow for missed work time due to a sick child, or a child who was struggling too much to remain in school for the day, or a kid who needed shoes because one had been thrown out the schoolbus window, or there was a seizure, or an uncontrollable meltdown. We're not incapable of working. But we are sometimes incapable of getting the work done because the needs of our kids come first. It is not our fault. It is not our children's fault. It's just the way it is.
I am blessed. I have a supportive family and a strong will. I also have hope, so despair is not a frequent visitor in my home. I carry the majority of our burden on my own shoulders, and don't allow my worries to become a burden on my kids, as much as I am able. My girl is a smart kid and rarely asks for much, but she is aware of our need to be careful with money. It will be a lesson I hope will always keep her conscious of the value of a dollar, but I make sure not to obsess over my concerns, so they don't become a major cause of anxiety for her. Not everyone is as blessed as we are.
It is my hope, by starting this conversation, we can find a way to all come together to encourage the powers that be, to find a way to utilize some of our talents and skills in a way that allows us to provide the care our kids may need. Even if we manage to inspire a few employers to extend some grace to allow for the days we must leave early, or show up late because the only time we had to brush our teeth was after the kids were all safely on their way to school, it will be worth sharing some of the more difficult details.
As I said at the beginning, I can only honestly offer my own perspective. If any of the autistic adults out there have a perspective to share regarding employment, I hope you will do so. The more we talk about it, the more we open up the world to a need that could use a remedy. You never know...
Oh...I am not asking for suggestions of which products I could sell from home. I have explored every possibility, but the truth is, I am not a good salesperson. Surprisingly, I can sell a house because it is truly not about selling something. Real estate is about connecting with people. THAT I can do, comfortably.
HOWEVER, if you have found a way to increase your income, working from home in some way, feel free to share. Maybe someone will be inspired❤