Chelsea Ridenour’s struggle to find steady employment has revealed a problem on a much larger scale: recent college graduates on the autism spectrum cannot find work. The Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence has cited a national study that says only 6 to 14 percent of adults with autism are employed.
Even those who performed at the top of their class throughout college are unable to exhibit the same intellectual prowess during the interview process. Ridenour graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 3.9 grade point average from Capital University, where she studied computers and math.
Tom Fish of the Ohio State University Nisonger Center, said: “The challenge with people on the [autism] spectrum, of course, is social interaction. People look at these kids and say, ‘Be more social.’ Well, they can’t.”
People like Ridenour spend their childhoods receiving special therapies and educations, to prepare so they can take on the adult world as best equipped as possible. However, now that they’ve reached that point, they realize that life is just as difficult.
To cope, families and young adults on the autism spectrum will turn to rehabilitation service agencies to help them find jobs. Others go to county boards of developmental disabilities. The next problem they encounter is that these agencies and boards cannot service those with Aspergers’ or more mild forms of autism.
Ridenour and her mother once visited the Bureau of Vocational Services with the hope that they could get an interview lined up for her. Ridenour was instead told that she was not “competitively employable.”
Michael Rench, who is the commissioner of the Bureau of Vocational Services, said: “Small-business owners can make adaptations quicker than a corporation. They’re more than willing to tolerate the quirkiness.”
Ridenour’s mother urges that other parents take note of their story, and understand that exceptional academic performance is not enough to make the cut in these circumstances. Building previous work experience is very important as well.