By 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The CLASS Program, which was briefly the law of the land, was repealed by the Taxpayer Relief Act on January 2, 2013.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.