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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 64
Gender: Male
Posts: 25,897
Location: Long Island, New York

09 Jun 2018, 12:50 am

Viewpoint: ’This Business of Autism’ showcases how, why of social enterprise in our community

This Business of Autism” is more than a profile of a social enterprise built around providing jobs for adults on the autism spectrum, it provides a manual, a template to how such businesses could be replicated and even more significantly, why they should be replicated.

The documentary leaps from Port Washington where Spectrum Designs, a social enterprise company founded in 2011 to employ adults on the autism spectrum, has just opened new, expanded offices, tripling its capacity.

It travels to San Francisco to peek in on a Jobs Club that has focused on the need to train managers and mentors in companies that want to increase job opportunities for people with special needs, to Mercyhurst College in Erie, Penn., which created a program that stresses life and social skills that are needed in the real world.

And it offers the wisdom of Dr. Temple Grandhin, who is herself on the autism spectrum, who lays out in no uncertain terms the need to instill self-sufficiency to the extent possible as early as possible.

It turns out that T-shirt printing was a fortuitous choice because the tasks are defined with a beginning, middle and end, can be easily taught, and are well suited to individuals who are in that 60 percent range on the spectrum.
They had the advantage of building a business around this social purpose, rather than insert employees with special needs into an existing business.

And we get some insights into that: the visual cues are key, like the giant chart that tells everybody their tasks for the day with words and pictures; the lists of steps at each workstation; naming the various machines and areas (one is named Octopus). Also, there is a one-to-three ratio of “educators” to workers.

What else is necessary?

All the back-ups and supports, starting with the Nicolas Center, which helps counsel the young people and screen them for jobs and training.
But it comes down to the fact Spectrum Designs is a business, albeit one that is based around social enterprise. Clients (who have included Northwell Health, KPMG, Google, Facebook, Accenture, NYU Langone Health and Mount Sinai) require a quality product.

Indeed, the business has grown from $100,000 in sales in 2012, to $1.1 million in 2016, and is targeting $3 million by 2020, in their expanded (tripled) space.

On the other hand, as the film demonstrates, the Spectrum Designs experience is replicable – I can even see them franchising.

But while this not-for-profit has developed a sustainable business model, it also requires the support of community – that is the village of Port Washington, the Town of North Hempstead, and the state.

Indeed, the return in developing self-sufficient, actualized individuals for society, the community and government, compared to government spending that goes merely to warehouse individuals, is enormous.

The lifetime cost of autism averages $1.4 million to $2.4 million. These costs place a tremendous burden on families and society but can be dramatically reduced with high-quality interventions and adult transition support.
Jack Martins, the former state senator (a Republican) remarks in the film, “This is an appropriate role for government.”

And the genuine feeling of self-worth, of accomplishment in bringing home a paycheck is, well, priceless. There is a lot to be said for quality of life and not merely existing.

The documentary is available on Vimeo on Demand and on Amazon, and will be available on itunes and Googleplay as well as Blueray and DVD.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman