Current estimates indicate that almost 80 percent of working-age adults with autism are either underemployed or unemployed. Things neurotypical adults take for granted—like filling out an application, resume screening, getting through a job interview, onboarding to a position, and adjusting to changing job environments—pose significant barriers to adults with autism. So, the question becomes: how do these adults achieve sustainable employment? The answer? They can start their own businesses.
This cause is very personal for me. My son, Joshua, is on the autism spectrum. Over and over again, I have seen him run into obstacles in finding, obtaining, and keeping gainful employment because of challenges in reaching his “limits” or cognitive load. As a parent, I was frustrated in the lack of options, but as an entrepreneur, I saw an opportunity. Since 2016, I have embarked on a journey to create entrepreneurial opportunities for adults with autism.
I founded Every Life Works to develop a business model that promotes the skills and passion of the autistic adults. Over the past four years, I have trained people like Josh on sustainable skills, built an environment to maximize their productivity, crafted a business plan around their interests, and hired neurotypical peers to work in that business, essentially turning the current model of hiring autistic individuals on its head.
Under the trademark of AUTISM CREATES®, we now have three revenue generating microbusinesses focused on promoting our students’ skills and passions. Our current microbusinesses are based on usable art, assembly of electronic sub-assemblies, and screen printing of apparels. I have also initiated the training of our adults on high-tech laboratory skills like electronic ceramic preparations and screen printing of functional apparels. All of these efforts ensure that these young adults’ skills, including my son’s, are used to their fullest potential, helping them better integrate and contribute to society.
Currently, we help our students to:
- Increase their overall skills and comprehension;
- Introduce robotics for training to familiarize them with man-machine interaction; and
- Collect visual data and conduct machine learning-based analysis to help them complete tasks efficiently and safely.
The parents of the students tell us how excited their children are to come to our center. I too can see it in their participation with their peers. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “the purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Somnath Sengupta is the father of a 29-year old son on the autism spectrum. He is a MIT-trained researcher with 25+ years of experience in technology development and commercialization. The last company he had cofounded was acquired by Blackberry®. Somnath received his Master of Science from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India, and PhD from the University of South Florida.