Becoming an employer of someone with Autism and an Intellectual Disability.

A few years ago I was chatting with a friend over coffee. We were discussing her son Brodie, and options after leaving school.

Brodie has Down Syndrome.

Brodie loves doing jigsaws.

There were some challenges.

  • Leaving Brodie home alone was not an option due to safety concerns.
  • School had provided Brodie with valuable academic & life skills teaching but it had also been a vital source of social interaction and friendships.
  • School had given Brodie a reason to get out of bed each day.
  • School had also meant Brodie’s parents could continue to work.
  • Part time “volunteer” positions had been sought locally to give Brodie purpose and encourage him to engage in the community. Brodie needed to walk to the location. This was a constant source of worry for the family as Brodie had to cross several busy roads.
  • In order for Brodie to attend a supported work place, they had to teach Brodie how to catch a train. Travel training took a year, with Brodie’s father travelling with him. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Brodie has been stolen from, missed trains, had meltdowns, been missing.
  • The supported work place hours are limited – it is not full time. Brodie’s father had to drop to part time employment so he could care for Brodie.
  • The wage Brodie earns is not a regular wage. But Brodie loves going, for so many reasons.
  • The lack of “real” employment opportunities for people with disabilities – either intellectual, physical or both. And, which roles would be a good fit for differing disabilities.

The conversation had an impact. It haunted me for days.

I made a promise to myself, that if ever I was in a position to provide employment to someone with a disability, that it would be something I would and should do. It became a goal – to be in a position where I could offer employment. Real employment. An inclusive workplace.

Becoming an Accidental Employer

For those who don’t know, Starfish is an Educational Retail store in Kiama (on the South Coast of NSW, Australia). Because of my experience and expertise in Learning Difficulties and Disabilities, we have always stocked a range of sensory and specialised items (toys, games, resources).

With HCWA (Helping Children with Austism) and then NDIS (National Disability Scheme) rolling out, it meant we were able to grow as a business. We got to the point where we could afford to employ 2 full time staff, expanding into the store next door to create a safe Sensory & Specialised Store area.

Social media had and continues to play a valuable role in our growth. A wonderful community has developed locally and on social media, particularly on facebook. One of our followers, indeed one of our regular supporters was Madison Sims. Madi followed us avidly. She would often be the first to like, comment and share our posts. We loved her visits to our store as well.

Out of the blue, one day, Madi sent me the following message….

The first message coming from Madi, asking about work experience.

Whilst it had been my intention to be in a position to employ someone with a disability, it had not been on my radar at this precise point. But heck, Madi was great, she loved Starfish and I thought it could be a good match.

Madi was asking for work experience. But in my mind, I was hoping it would be “real” employment.

Thanks to Madi’s initiative, she has a “real” job that she loves and I bumbled my way into becoming the accidental employer.

It is so worth it.

Madi’s first official day.

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It is so worth it.

Want to learn more about employing someone with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities, the things we’ve found to be crucial (and at times surprising) to making “it” work so well for us? We’ve put together a series of posts so everyone who needs this information can easily access it.

  • The Accidental Employer: the back story of how we came to employ someone with an intellectual disability
  • Perfect Match: getting the right fit
  • Savvy Collaboration: Communication with ALL the key players
  • Taking the Pressure off: when employing someone with Autism and Intellectual disabilities.
  • Eye on the road but hand on the wheel: having flexible goals when employing people with disabilities.
  • Longing to Belong: truly inclusive practice at work
  • Teach then train: best way to push beyond the present
  • Routines = Success: for independence, confidence and learning new skills
  • A moment with Emily: a sister’s perspective
  • A moment with Janelle: a family’s experience of the process
  • A moment with Julie: observations from The Disability Trust Business Development Officer

Kirstie xx