David Sable, M.D.
Kathleen Martin, BCBA
Deanna Hyslop, BCBA
When young women and men on the autism spectrum graduate from school at age 21, they enter a world unprepared for them. No longer eligible for academic programs and services that offer productive ways to occupy their days, they face isolation while their families assume responsibility for their supervision.
Since 2000, the incidence of autism spectrum disorders in the United States has increased dramatically. In the next ten years, we will face a public policy crisis when 500,000 autistic adults will find themselves without meaningful or productive ways to spend their adult lives. As these young men and women age out of their specialized schools by 2021, this epidemic itself will come of age. These capable adults and their families are painfully aware that society stops investing in their futures when their access to post-secondary education is abruptly cut off; currently 80 percent of autistic adults are chronically unemployed. A recent graduate, now unemployed and living with his parents, said simply and powerfully, ‘I want a place’.
Nik’s Kitchen is a social enterprise which seeks to create that place, by training 17-25-year-old men and women on the spectrum with targeted culinary skills for employment in the food preparation industries. The culinary industry is characterized by multiple discreet tasks, step-by-step accumulation of skills, and workers with focus and reliability — the very strengths that our young men and women possess. By creating a standardized adaptive culinary curriculum, working with industry representatives to establish standards and training protocols, designing evaluation criteria for commensurate wages and credentialing, and collecting data for the purpose of porting the process to other industries, Nik’s Kitchen is an important first step in defining and leveraging the very real strengths that have been unrecognized and underutilized to date. Our programs offer these young men and women opportunities to lead productive and fulfilled lives in a competitive, integrated workplace.
Our coalition of culinary, educational and public sector partners share an optimism regarding the abilities of these too often undervalued autistic adults. We seek to establish a new workforce development model for these young adults in New York City. Our first group of students were successfully trained in a twelve-week proof-of-concept prototype curriculum covering the acquisition of knife and other fundamental prep skills by utilizing movement analysis and physical guide templates for students who have no prior experience in the kitchen.
We will continue to invest in workable partnerships and scalable employment initiatives for what is truly a new civil rights frontier in which the bulk of autistic adults have the will, intention and desire to work in inclusive settings, but cannot advocate for their own rights nor find opportunities to do so.
© 2017 Priya Mayadas. All rights reserved.
Content Copyright © Priya Mayadas. All Rights Reserved