The recent Boston Globe article (November 6, 2011) by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Gareth Cook, paints a grim picture of vocational prospects for adults with autism. Today, the options for productive lives are sadly limited for most on the autism spectrum. Cook coins the phrase for thousands who are simply languishing, not productive because they are not allowed to be.  This is a depressing reality for individuals, but also a terrible waste of talent and resources.  Rather than dwell on the perceived deficiencies of autism, however, Cook called autism a set of abilities. He also noted that there is a movement afoot, “to find ways for autistic people to contribute, to hold jobs, to be brought into society instead of being shoved to the margins.”

There is some hope.

I believe Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, is at the forefront of that social movement. In the spring, we hired a 29-year-old woman with Asperger’s Syndrome. She is college educated, speaks Spanish, has outstanding research skills — and has never held a full-time job. Not because she is incapable, but because she is different.

She is thrilled to be working and thanks me regularly for hiring her. We take some unusual steps to employ her. She is learning to drive, so we pick her up and bring her to our office.  We structure the surroundings to accommodate her unique abilities. Her response has been excellent work and an eagerness to share her knowledge.

Because of her excellent and varied abilities, we are grooming her to become an experience guide when we launch our pilot program this spring. As a guide, she will lead a group of interested individuals/volunteers on experiential outings that expose them to new and different learning activities. This is a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to give back to the community, while at the same time allowing individuals with autism to share their knowledge and gifts.

Peg Reagan, a friend of Erik’s Ranch & Retreats and whose son has autism, suggested that the most important change Erik’s Ranch & Retreats will effect is how people perceive individuals with autism. I would like to believe that the current social movement will relegate “languishing” to the history books.

Where do you see signs of hope for a more productive future for those who have autism? We’d love to hear your ideas and stories.