Home > Adults with autism, Family Services > Finding Meaningful Work in Difficult Times

Finding Meaningful Work in Difficult Times

This is a blog post by Tracey Daigneau, M.Ed., Director of Day Services at New England Village.

Finding meaningful work for an individual with autism can be quite a challenge, needing to match skills and motivation with an appropriate job within the community. When you factor in external factors such as the economy, employer biases and lack of awareness of ASD it often becomes an overwhelming task.  At New England Village’s Employment Services program, we have the challenge of finding varied, consistent and meaningful work for over 70 adults, many of whom have ASD.

For the past twenty years, we have sought to provide work for our residents and day participants, primarily in the field of manufacturing.  Jobs such as assembly and packaging were ones which the vast majority of our population could do and enjoyed, often earning a nice sized paycheck as a result of their hard work.  Unfortunately, the past decade has seen quite a shift in manufacturing throughout Massachusetts.  Jobs becoming automated and going overseas, companies moving out of state or turning to other sources of inexpensive labor to cut costs has resulted in a significant decrease in available work opportunities for the individuals we support.

The unenviable task of finding year round work falls upon our program director, Rick Moulton.  A career in sales as well as the past decade spent in Human Services has served Rick and New England Village well, but the challenges listed above have made his job an extremely difficult one.  When work is not consistent, Rick hears about it from persons served, their families and even our own staff.  All are aware of the challenges he has but the bottom line is our expectation is to provide work for each and every individual, all with varying levels of skills and motivation, every day they attend our state of the art work center.

In an effort to lessen our reliance on available contract work in manufacturing, New England Village decided to take our destiny into our own hands by starting several of our own “business ventures.”  Established businesses in Landscaping and Cleaning had made us cautiously optimistic that we could find another business that provided meaningful, enriching work and also fit our organizational mission and philosophy.  We had previously done some packaging work for a local jewelry company and our success with this job combined with the interest many persons served had in creating jewelry led us to establish our third business, True Meaning Jewelry (TMJ).

We sought to create jewelry that fit our mission and as a result, decided to focus on developing a line of awareness jewelry.  A variety of causes were investigated but it was our partnership with Autism Speaks which has played the biggest role in our success.  Through this partnership, sales have increased dramatically, resulting in persons served assembling each and every piece of jewelry sold. Although the paycheck from this work is satisfying, the greatest benefit is the sense of pride one gets when they create a bracelet or necklace that has been ordered by one of our valued customers.  We have shipped our jewelry throughout the country and recently had our first international order!  Although many persons served still enjoy and benefit from the somewhat repetitive contract work described above, TMJ has become the job of choice for many individuals.  It fills a need which each of us has when it comes to our job: to feel valued, challenged and ultimately fulfilled.

As we move forward into our third full year of this business, it is not without its challenges, much the same as those any start up business faces.  Having enough volume to keep several people busy daily has been difficult and we have attended various local and state events such as the Greater Boston Walk Now for Autism Speaks as a supplement to our web based sales.  Although we have run a fairly significant deficit each year with TMJ, we are able and willing to continue this business due to it fulfilling our primary goal of providing work to persons with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

Autism Speaks has been a tremendous partner to New England Village and their willingness to promote and market our autism awareness jewelry is something that we are proud and appreciative of.  We remain hopeful that the partnership we have established with AS is one we can duplicate with other national foundations and associations which will ultimately result in additional work opportunities for those we support.

I was struck by a recent blog on this site that stated “All parents want the same things for all their children: loving friends, good health, work that is meaningful to them.” I hope some readers of this blog realize that they are not in this alone and that there are many committed professionals in the field that support adults with ASD, hoping to make a difference in the employment opportunities they have.

Click here to visit the True Meaning Jewelry web site.

  1. Katie Wright
    June 24, 2011 at 9:16 am

    The work people like Tracey do is incredibly hard, poorly compensated and phenomenally important. Thank you to Tracey and all the people like her working so hard that our children may have an occupation or the opportunity to hold a job. Work = self esteem, dignity and a sense of community.

  2. Margarita
    July 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    It brings me to tears to know that We all want the same Thing. I always knew my son was special and something was not quite right. He is now 22 yrs old and i received some info from his doctor that Listed Autism as one of his Diagnoses. Why did he wait so long? He had seen this same Doctor for @ least 12 yrs. Is this just a blanket Diagnosis when all the pieces don’t seem to fit? We are presently working with California Vocational Rehab without much success as far is job leads.He is optimistic but me not so much. I wish there were more Companies or program or education on self employment opportunities like this one everywhere. Thanks again for understanding
    A Mom

  3. July 14, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Great job and thank you! Your hard work and dedication is so greatly appreciated by so many more people then just the families you serve. I think that is a great idea and the jewelry is very nice.

  4. July 14, 2011 at 11:52 am

    This is the kind of thing that just makes my day. Awesome! Keep up the good work Tracey!

  5. Linda A. Brown
    July 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I am just, after 20 years in the mental health system, finding I’ve had HFA all my life and only at 49 years of life, finding out. I feel stuck in a system that I’ve never really belonged and have a chance to change that. But I’m alone in a small county of Calif. with no help.The challenge is scary, very scary.
    Linda A Brown
    Mariposa, Ca.

  6. spouse
    August 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I created this page to share my experience and thoughts with other autistic spouses and families. I was married to my Autistic husband for over 4 years. though ride. Finally we decided to go our separate ways.
    Hoping one day all autistic adults and their families can learn more about autism and get professional help

  7. August 24, 2011 at 11:36 am

    What a moving post. In our quest sometimes we feel isolated as if there is something wrong with seeking the triple R in work. Respect,recognition and meaningful relationships. Very basic yet at the core of it all, it could be these very attributes that enhance the optimal work-life balance. More than anything work has to be purposeful. Tracey i look up to what you are doing by making a difference in your own way. I know what you do may at times not be easy, but that’s exactly why you are the one that is doing it. You care. Thank you for making a difference.

  8. September 10, 2011 at 7:09 am

    work is one of the challenges. for Adults with Asperger’s is alot the same… the outer exterior of what I look like doesn’t say anything about how I am or my disabilities. I am numb to how the world reacts to someone who’s different. Is been a confusing part of me all this time. I have read so much about Asperger’s and it just seems to be based on the little ones. But I knowing what is like to grow up wonder if people think the kids will grow and they will face challenges and no one is exactly the same. I have taught myself alot and learned alot but it took me a long time. Now as a mother of a child with Autism too is helping me to help him. I like that. I understand alot of how he sees things and his reactions and is like seeing me when I was little.

    is not easy but is not hard either. that’s how I feel

  9. December 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Why do parents complain about the joys there normal are giving them. I feel blessed but tired to have experience the privilege of raising an adult who has a brain chemistry difference in the Autistic Spectrum. M

  10. December 15, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Many people believed people with autism are severely disabled and helpless. Thank God there are some very nice, passionate and dedicated people who are trying to make a change. I wanna thank you for this post as this will encourage other families with kids having ASD.

  11. December 27, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Applaud anyone doing something practical to bring the most important thing to people who need it, productive and satisfying work! As an unemployed adult with ASD recently diagnosed(I’m 53) I’m especially touched. I’m looking for supporters to help me start a non-profit to hire people with such disabilities as mine to manufacture kid size tadpole trikes, a sporty way for the uncoordinated to ride with their friends. Your success is encouraging!

  1. September 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm

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