Autism and Discrimination

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

In her Oct. 30 op-ed, "Willing, Able -- and Unemployable," Ann Bauer lamented her autistic 18-year-old son's inability to secure gainful employment in a corporate climate in which hiring managers discriminate against him. As a mother of an eccentric, mercurial, sensitive and brilliant 9-year-old girl who is autistic, I was disappointed by Ms. Bauer's defeatist attitude.

It took decades of struggle, protest and litigation to pass meaningful civil rights and disabilities laws. I, for one, would appreciate it very much if Ms. Bauer and her son would take discriminatory employment agencies to court and force employers to take a fresh look at themselves.

Employers need to confront a fundamental question about autism. Who is really disabled? The autistic person who is intrinsically different or the socially typical person who is unwilling or unable to relate well with the socially unusual? If it is the latter, then shouldn't society be doing more to help the typical person overcome that disability?




My 13-year-old son is among the "many" whom Ann Bauer described in her op-ed on her son Andrew's search for employment. Although my son is too young for a job, he has already endured similar treatment while going about the daily business of living.

An elementary school specialist confided that if my son were "just more of a behavior problem," he would probably be eligible for needed academic accommodations. Neighbors often exempt their children from the demands of simple kindness and decency because my son "doesn't look disabled." Although my son is often called "not disabled enough," his disability takes most people too far out of their comfort zones.

As a society, we give ourselves license to feel good about ourselves when we are generous to the visibly less fortunate. But it has often been my family's experience that when the need for consideration is not visible, the average person deems it unnecessary.

Thank you, Ann Bauer and Andrew. We are proud to follow your path.



© 2006 The Washington Post Company