Contest! Win Chantal Sicile-Kira's Revised Complete Guide To Understand Autism
Dachel Media Review:Thimerosal, Chile, Landrigan

Autism in a Future that Works

DB workBy Dan Burns

Where will our ASD kids work? Adults on the spectrum are 80% unemployed or underemployed (Easter Seals). The launch ramp to the working world is still under construction, and job opportunities haven’t kept pace with the need.

One solution: parent-driven microenterprises – job programs for our kids. Here’s a project I’m working on: a hydroponic wall garden constructed from recycled materials. It includes a water recirculation system, a wine bottle grow-light, and a resident goldfish. The garden can be populated with aromatic plants, anti-fungals such as oregano, anti-inflammatories, and fresh herbs like peppermint and parsley to help soothe damaged guts and calm restless sleep. Teens and young adults on the spectrum can manufacture, sell, and ship wall garden kits. They can collect recyclable materials, craft the components, package the kits, and create advertising art and IT support. It’s a project broad enough to engage the interests, talents, and abilities of teens and young adults up and down the spectrum.  Appleseed Ventures will pre-sell ten kits, build twenty, and ramp up from there.

First, the prototype.  For a glimpse of this work in progress, take a look at Wall Garden Wizards Storyboards:

Wall garden work will not cover everyone’s room and board … but this project and others like it could qualify our young adults for a future federal program to help fund their services. One model is the CLASS Program -- Community Living Assistance Services and Supports -- a little-known provision of the Affordable Care Act, drafted to establish a national, voluntary insurance program for long-term care. To qualify for benefits, a teen or young adult would pay as little as a $5/month and earn at least $100/month for three years. The federal benefit: around $2000/month (plus or minus $500/month) for life.

The CLASS Program, which was briefly the law of the land, was repealed by the Taxpayer Relief Act on January 2, 2013. But the need is greater than ever. I spent the summer of 2012 working with ASD teens and adults. I believe our time will come.

Meanwhile, why wait?  Appleseed Ventures, my dba, is named after Johnny Appleseed. He established fruitful enterprises and inspired others. I hope I can, too. Do you have an idea for a microenterprise or know of one that’s already up and running? Drop by my Vocational Roundtable at AutismOne on Sunday, May 25 at 11:00 AM and share your vision.  We can build a future that works.

Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., is the father of a 26-year-old son on the autism spectrum and the author of  Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism. Through his dba, Appleseed Ventures, Dan empowers parents to organize vocational and residential communities where their adult ASD children and friends can live, work, play, and heal.


Dee McVicker

It's this kind of parent involvement that has started some very enterprising solutions to the unemployed young person with autism. I am with Exceptional Minds digital arts academy for young adults with autism. Most of our parents happen to be in the movie business, which just so happens to be a fit for those with autism who are more visually oriented. We are finding that the industry not only wants this talent, but they truly value it. Our students worked on the post-production for motion-picture American Hustle, for example. Bravo to all the parents out there who are making a better world for their kids.

Great project

Dan Burns

Darla, plans and specs are under development and I'd be more than happy to share. I'll email you at your AOL address. Let's discuss!

Darla Tagrin

This is incredible! I've been looking for projects that my daughter can make, that people might buy. So far, I've come up with cigar box pochade boxes, handmade sketch journals, and cigar box drawer cabinets. Would you sell plans for your project? I've got some ideas for variations.


So grateful for innovative people like you who are coming up with ideas so our children can have productive lives. Please keep at it. The wall garden is very pretty, by the way.

Eileen Nicole Simon

Dan, the best 10 years of my son’s life he spent at the Westborough State Hospital in Massachusetts. Sadly, this hospital was closed 4 years ago because the policy wizards decided living in the community would be better, and it certainly is not.

At Westborough my son had a job at the Agnes Clark Memorial Workshop, in a 100-year old building equipped with a loading dock even. When the hospital was built it was on the model of a work house and a state farm. The orchards are still there too. In the old work house they did jobs like caning chair seats.

My son worked on assembling picture frames and bird feeders. He loved the bird feeders, and the Clark workshop assembled these for Opus Gardensong of Bellingham MA.

I will never forget the time we went shopping at Christmas time, and as we entered the old Caldor store in the shopping mall, there were the bird feeders on sale as Christmas gifts.

“That’s my work!” Andy cried out in a voice full of emotion.

What is more fulfilling than seeing your work being sold as something people want to have. All the gifts I gave that Christmas were the Opus Gardensong bird feeders. Maybe you can look them up. I love your hanging gardens. It’s the same idea. Good luck with it.


Hi Dan,
When I saw you taking the PVC pipe out of the oven, my toxin-meter alarmed. I went looking and found that if PVC is heated at low temperatures without melting or smoking, one site said that it won't off gas dioxins and whatever other nasty stuff it's made of. Don't know how reliable that site is though. Anyway, you probably looked into it thoroughly but I'm posting this so that anyone else who attempts the project realizes that heating PVC pipe can release toxic gas.

The wall garden is a great innovative idea. I look forward to seeing them for sale.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)