Community: Autism & Employment: One Person’s Story

Introduction by Lana David

This story was published by Autism Research Institute’s Autistic Global Initiative eBulletin July 2016 issue. The subject of employment and autism is one of The First Guild’s main concerns. Mike, who is the ahe author of this blog, has an asperger, which is a spectrum of autism. In this blog, Mike shares how difficult to get and sustain a job for someone who has autism.

The goal of The First Guild is to reverse this trend by introducing a new business outlook called Match-A-Friend, the first of its kind business model, which is based on collaboration and identity formation. MAF model is the legacy of a young adult with autism and is being developed by TFG founders S. David and E. Alexandra. MAF model is designed to ensure successful integration of young adults of all walks of life into the workforce including those with social challenges (Autism, Asperger, ADHD, etc.)

The author of this blog, Mike is s a native of Denver and serves on the Board of Directors of the Autism Society of Colorado. His interests span popular culture, including attending Comicon and Star Trek conventions. He enjoys the occasional trip to places like Mt. Evans, Colorado’s highest peak. 

By Mike Berg

When I was 14 years old and in 8th grade, I was diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome at Children’s Hospital in Denver because my parents felt there was something wrong with me.

In high school, I managed to land part-time jobs at Chick-fil-A, King Soopers and Sports Authority.  At all these jobs, I faced enormous prejudice from both customers and staff.  After six months, I was fired from Sports Authority, due to the social struggles I faced on the job.

When I graduated high school, I was trying to get into college and being unsure of what direction I should take, I contacted Vocational Rehabilitation to be evaluated for what kind of skill set I possessed.  It was discovered that my skill set was best in the areas of data entry, numbers, and computers, so I enrolled in a program through the Community College of Denver West (CCD) called ROOTS.

This program trained me in data entry and accounting. It was there where I learned how to use Microsoft Word, and once I graduated, I was encouraged to apply for internships through the Federal Government where I was told that there was a 90% success rate. I graduated in 2006 with a Certificate in Microsoft Office, but I continued to struggle in getting employment despite the fact that I had over twenty-five interviews with the city of Denver between September 2006 and April 2007. Finally, I landed a job as a dishwasher from October 2006 to April 2007 but was let go because a foreign exchange student replaced me.

In 2007, Voc Rehab referred me to Bayaud Enterprises, a job assessment and training program. I also was placed in an apartment complex and there encountered problems because of social struggles. Bayaud informed me that my testing period there was a complete failure. The following year, Voc. Rehab made another try with Bayaud, and I became a mail clerk at a Veteran’s Hospital. I had this job for six months instead of the usual three because I excelled there. Despite this success, after my training ended, Bayaud was unwilling to help me and further and refused to refer me to future jobs.

So, I chose to go to the Community College of Denver to finish my Associate’s Degree and completed it in December 2009.  During that year, I worked for a month as a mail clerk for the VA and by February 2010, I was promoted to work for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).  It was not easy working there, because both the management and the employees harassed me. Not only that, I was suspended for three days because I was accused of stalking a female employee who was part of my team. I went to Bayaud and told the management there about this because I feared losing my job. They encouraged me to stay with CDOT.

From 2012 to the present day, it has not been easy for me. I still encounter difficulties with people.  I took a Taking Care of Business class for fifteen weeks and by April 2013, my not finding employment was frustrating Voc Rehab. Finally in May 2013, I started full-time at Goodwill Industries of Denver working in the E-Books division.  It was a 90-day trial period, and I was cut down from full to part-time.

I started out processing books, but later I was switched to sorting or picking up books on carts. I never fit in well, partially because I had a hard time keeping my numbers up, even though at the end of my time there, I was reaching quota. I had to pick up 100 books per hour, and speed counted more than quality. Also, the quota was based on the speed of the fastest worker, who happened to pick about 140 books per hour. Regardless, I was still let go, despite many co-workers liking me as a worker and the fact that I did well at that job.

In 2014, Voc Rehab was not impressed that I failed at keeping another job. This job only lasted six weeks and it was working for Access-a-Ride (MV). This company is a compliment to RTD, Denver’s public transit system, in that they pick up disabled people from all parts of Denver to get that person to their desired location. After losing this job, it took five months to get a job as a part-time mail clerk at the Century Link building in downtown Denver. I liked this job and was successful at completing the work. In November 2014, I had the opportunity to cross-train there but the sponsor did not like me from the beginning.

I tried to be as professional as possible, but she did not like my appearance and that eventually caused problems between me, my supervisor, and management and that led to decreased productivity in my work. Issues with my appearance led me to a suspension in December, despite the fact that I had been dressing this way before without any complaints. In addition, they wrote me up for watching TV shows and movies during downtime, when other employees were doing the same thing. I felt bullied by the supervisors and in January 2015, I was let go because I botched a customer order.

Also in 2015, the Executive Director of the Autism Society of Colorado (ASC) offered me a temporary internship as an administrative assistant. I worked there for four months and was extremely productive. I helped promote Autism Awareness in Denver and encouraged families of newly diagnosed children because they felt hope and were encouraged that on the ASC staff was an adult autistic working.  Unfortunately, the internship ended and since my internship, there has not been another autistic adult working for a paid position for the ASC.

The rest of 2015 was not a good year in gaining employment.  So in the start of 2016, I found a job through another disability agency, Service Source. I applied for that job and two weeks later they contacted me. I told them about my diagnosis and put them in touch with one of my therapists. As of now, I am currently working full time as a general office clerk processing Air Force personnel paperwork.

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