Adults with autism don’t have to settle for collecting grocery carts

Two days ago, I participated in a program called Reactor Room. I spoke in front of a panel of business leaders, social workers, and psychologists about my talents, skills, and experience in the workforce. I also talked about my current projects. Then I took questions and comments aimed at helping me to develop all of that into a successful career. It was nerve wracking, and I spent all day yesterday recovering, but it was a very positive experience overall.

Reactor Room is run by Dr. Heidi Stieglitz Ham as part of Spectrum Fusion, which is her vision of a community of adults on the autism spectrum who support each other and serve the global community with our abilities. She believes that we all have the potential to do great things, and I agree completely. That’s why I’m so glad to be a part of what she’s doing.

Unfortunately, some people don’t see autistic adults that way. The other Reactor Room participant is a writer/editor who is seeking opportunities in that field. A member of the panel he spoke to by the name of Denise Hazen voiced opposition to what Dr. Ham is trying to do, saying that my fellow Reactor Room participant will never find a job in writing. She thinks that Dr. Ham encourages unrealistic goals, helping autistic people find employment in their area of interest.

So what does Denise Hazen think is a realistic goal for adults on the autism spectrum? Manual labor. She employs them to produce trinkets that she sells in her program called Aspire Accessories. In return, they get training in a variety of retail-related skills and “fair wages.” Does that sound like minimum wage to you? It does to me.

And the stuff they produce isn’t cheap. Check out this leather, Texas-shaped keychain. Normally, you would expect a keychain to cost, what, about $5? Maybe $10 if it’s really nice? Well, this one costs $20. Sure, each one is hand made (by someone whose boss thinks they’d be lucky to have a job collecting grocery carts), but $20? Seriously?

Denise monopolized the conversation in order to promote her business, because that’s what she came for. She wasn’t there to help autistic people.

11 thoughts on “Adults with autism don’t have to settle for collecting grocery carts

  1. I would like to know how much they charge parents of the young adults/teens to be in the training program while they are making a profit. And #2 how much is fair wage? Is it even minimum wage? Also, how many autistics are a part of the program in management, planning, marketing, or is it purely using autistics for manual labor. What she said is unacceptable.

      • to give the person a fair chance to represent their side and company, it would be good to know. If parents don’t have to pay and employees are paid minimum wage than that is a good program, despite her not being very nice at the event. But if it’s called training, I’d like to know how long the training lasts and if they are ever employees are always training. And once all the skills are learned are they still trainees? We all have bad days, so maybe she had a really bad day. It would be good if there was some good news.

      • I apologize that I didn’t respond to your email as I never received it.

        I am just seeing this post and would like to address some of your questions. For one, I do not receive a salary. I started this program to help my son and others on the spectrum. I have also invested my own money to help make this a successful and safe place for our artisans. The artisans are paid minimum wage for their work. All money raised through the sale of their products are invested back into the program to pay the artisans, teachers and product expenses. There is a program fee but it comes out to be far less than fees other programs charge. I also offer scholarships to families unable to pay the fee. I would be happy to give anyone of you a tour of the program so you can see what we are all about.

      • Hello, Denise. I appreciate you taking the time to address this. In my post, I mentioned that it sounds like you pay the participants minimum wage, which is not at all a fair wage. And charging them to participate in your program defeats the purpose of paying them for their time and effort. I believe that you are exploiting autistic people.

      • Why don’t you learn what we fully do and your the facility before you make such harsh judgments. To say I exploit these individuals is untrue and hurtful. I have spent 10 years developing this program. Not only do I not receive compensation but I have also spent over $50,000 of my own money to develop the program. What the artisans receive at Aspire is purpose and community. If you look at other programs like Brookwood, monarch or Nonpareil you will see that minimum wage is fair. Although I am hurt by your accusations the truth is that I have 26 happy and productive artisans who are grateful for the opportunities Aspire provides.
        What have you done to help our community?

    • I am just seeing this post and would like to address some of your questions. For one, I do not receive a salary. I started this program to help my son and others on the spectrum. I have also invested my own money to help make this a successful and safe place for our artisans. The artisans are paid minimum wage for their work. All money raised through the sale of their products are invested back into the program to pay the artisans, teachers and product expenses. There is a program fee but it comes out to be far less than fees other programs charge. I also offer scholarships to families unable to pay the fee. I would be happy to give anyone of you a tour of the program so you can see what we are all about.

  2. Keychains at Walmart cost less than $20, even if the leather is genuine leather. What these people are doing is pure exploitation.

  3. Meh, I’ve been saying for years that disabled people in general should be given a proper wage in proper jobs, not just “disabled specific” jobs paying £2 a day because all the clients are on benefits and can’t earn much without severe sanctions.

  4. There is a glass ceiling for disabilities. I graduated from graduate school at a tier 1 university with a nearly 4.0 GPA, interned at several engineering and Astrophysics related companies, build my own 3D video game from scratch, was the fastest runner at my high school, and more. Yet when I came in for an entry level coding job requiring only an associates degree my original boss said I was “hopelessly under-qualified” and it took heavy networking via a friend of my father’s, who was a level above him in management, to push him to give me unpaid probationary work. And there were false accusations leveled at me every single time I was overdue for a promotion far as consistently doing tasks listed as exclusive to the job level above me for years on end.

    Really, if you want a skilled job as an Autistic, I’ve found you have to fight like hell. I see people working at grocery stores doing essentially manual labor and the like. When I actually talk to them, and realize they are often at least so well if not better spoken and intellectually talented than myself. And I’m blessed enough to be paid decently, many times minimum wage. Relatively speaking, I’m extremely luck.

    I really have a hunch it comes down to stupid things like “we don’t want you doing management or holding meeting because your voice sounds weird/annoying” or “you just respond too slowly and it’s annoying” or generally “go in a stockroom or cubicle/corner somewhere so you don’t make a bad social image for our company”.

    No one should ever have to deal with that.

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