Not too long ago, on a security line at an airport, a young man stood near the front of the line. He looked to be between 16 and 18 years old. He was waiting patiently for several minutes and likely had attracted no one’s attention prior to the incident.
Then, out of nowhere, the young man began jumping up and down, pulling his knees into his chest as he jumped. He shook his head back and forth and let out a long loud laugh and a quick scream. His vocalizations were such that it was clear that he was unable to communicate verbally. He rocked back and forth for a moment, shifting his weight between his feet until he settled down again.
This incident, which lasted less than a minute, was visible to the TSA agent who had been standing about 150 feet away. The agent approached, weaving her way through the mass of travelers, and escorted the young man and his parents to the front of the line. She handed me a “TSA Cares” card and suggested that we contact them to ask about their program which offers travels assistance for people with disabilities.
This is what visible autism looks like.
The discussion about invisible disabilities in the workplace and whether to disclose them, often led by autistic adult proponents of the neurodiversity movement, is of limited use to people with visible autism and those who seek to help them find meaningful employment. In fact, it can be harmful in that it may limit the inclination of hiring managers and others from thinking broadly about how some people deemed “low functioning” by society may be capable of becoming very productive employees.
My son continues to thrive in his job sampling program at his specialized school. This school specializes in educating students who are significantly challenged by autism and is staffed with dedicated case managers and vocational specialists. These are people who have been successful in making the case to local businesses that all on the spectrum may be employable if given the right opportunity and supports. For most of these students, disclosure of their disability is as meaningless as disclosing the fact that they have a nose on their face.
Eric Jager is Managing Principal of SpeakerSelect, a conference company which specializes in developing programs for the disability community. Eric is also publisher and producer of Disabilityandemployment.net.