When he was younger, Jane remembers hearing her son speak about growing up and becoming a teacher. From a parent’s perspective, she knew that Ben’s autism was likely to prevent him from getting a job teaching school. But observing him at work nowadays, Jane realizes that Ben’s teenage teaching aspirations had little to do with classroom instruction—and everything to do with demonstrating how to be caring, helpful, and supportive.
When Ben was ready to enter the workforce, Jane imagined a job where her son’s autism would not limit his success. But being realistic, she suspected Ben would have to overcome biases surrounding spectrum disorders. Her concerns proved valid when employers were reluctant to give Ben a try.
“I found it difficult that, despite the training on his résumé, Ben faced all the stereotypes associated with autism,” recalls Jane. “It was hard because Ben is capable of learning new things and expanding his skills, but he wasn’t getting a chance to work in a real-life situation.”
Ben eventually found employment, but his first transitions to work did not go smoothly. “Ben always wants to please, so he tends to ignore his own limitations,” explains Jane. “In one of his first jobs, he was physically taxing himself to the point of exhaustion. Not surprisingly, he felt less than positive about his work there.”
“I found it difficult that, despite the training on his résumé, Ben faced all the stereotypes associated with autism.”
Another position required working with hazardous chemicals. An overall lack of supervision meant Ben received limited training. “While many employers expect workers to exhibit some independence at the onset, Ben needed more initial hands-on training, as well as continued support concerning his autism,” says his mother. “That transitional help was unavailable—or simply not provided‑—leaving him feeling unsuccessful and unhappy.”
But then Ben went to work at Bittersweet, Inc. in Whitehouse, Ohio. There he assists in operating an alternative-farming model called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). He also works in the Culinary Arts kitchen, helping produce the pesto and cookies that Bittersweet sells online and through area retailers. And, according to Jane, the transition-to-work guidance Bittersweet provided has allowed Ben to thrive.
“I’ve seen a significant difference in his self-esteem,” reports Jane. “He’s extremely proud of what he does, and he feels a sense of satisfaction from being productive and successful. Of course, I personally find it gratifying to see him so happy.”
“Ben takes his work very seriously. And I know that he takes pride in what he does.”
Jane unabashedly says that any employer would be lucky to hire her son. “Ben takes his work very seriously. He always tries to do his best, whether that means learning something new or completing a task. I’m proud of him. And I know that he takes pride in what he does.”
Jane advises parents to resist setting employment expectations for their sons and daughters—other than what their children want for themselves.
“It’s easy to dream about what we want them to do, versus what they are happy doing,” cautions Jane. “But, what they do is less important than how they perceive and experience what they do. Remember that in any job, feelings of happiness, pride, usefulness, and being productive—all outweigh any perceptions we as parents might have.”
While Ben didn’t become a schoolteacher, his perseverance at finding success at work provides a good lesson for anyone.