Does right livelihood hold any interest for you? I mean, helping people to find work that they are uniquely suited to, and enjoy?
This is of keen interest for the adult autistics I’ve met. Because our sensory sensitivity means that unpleasant or toxic work environments are more damaging and stressful, our performance is further crippled by these. But when we are socially and environmentally supported in following our right livelihood, we often excel beyond anyone’s expectations, repaying investments in our development and health handsomely. This is what Specialisterne is championing, right now.
For those of you who are parents of autistic children with very severe symptoms, this question about right livelihood may seem unfair. I want you to know how deeply I respect your choice to be the caring person who looks out for your child. I acknowledge that this choice you’ve made does not necessarily leave you doing the work you wish you could do, if your child wasn’t so ill and in need.
The subject of autism and work is a bit of a controversy. First, we have people whom, given the right health support and the right environments, can do brilliant things. Second, we have a medical system with standards of practice which deny autistics necessary health support, ensuring that many, many children and adults are stuck with crippling health problems at the root of most of our debilitating emotional and mental symptoms.
And third, we have a global economic system designed to concentrate more and more resources in fewer and fewer hands, with fully-abled people decreasingly capable of supporting themselves or their families. In this economic situation, who “deserves” to have work? And how do we finance this? Here lies the controversy.
I feel very fortunate to know about the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal (http://communityrenewal.ca). Despite being in an inactive phase, this website holds a database of success stories, of communities around the world who have found creative ways to bank their skill and financial resources in their home towns, instead of losing their resources to interest and fees in multinational financial organizations.
From their database, I learned that when you bank your finances in something like Denmark’s JAK banks, paying off your interest-free mortgage also pays for solar panels on your municipal buildings (freeing up tax money for social investments), for example. When you bank your finances in one of Quebec’s types of Caisse-Populaires, your mortgage is supporting specific investments in local economic, environmental, and social health measures.
Because investments in local health have a longer payback time, if people were paying interest the final amount needed to pay the initial loan is multiplied. People end up paying for much more than what they actually receive. With existing economic conditions in the regular banking world, exploitation of workers, environments, and communities — with ensuing neglect of unskilled workers, elders, children, and the disabled — is the norm, because that’s where you get large returns quickly (high interest rates).
So how do we turn this around? How do we take charge of our communities so that everyone has access to good health care, healthy social environments, and right livelihood? Thorkil Sonne is a Danish business person who can see the unique skills and abilities of autistics. Thorkil doesn’t want our culture to lose out on the benefits autistics can bring, and neither does he want autistics to lose out on the benefits of inclusion in our culture.
Having a son with autism, Thorkil chose to invest his business acumen into creating a business which evaluates, trains, and employs autistics as specialists. Currently this is in the high tech fields, but there is no intention to leave it there. His model is making its way around the globe, with his mentoring and support, but each country is responsible for doing its own groundwork.
It’s not that there aren’t other options. First, there’s the “do nothing” option, where most autistics are either institutionalized or self-imprisoned in computer games, and their genius is lost to both themselves and our culture, despite years of parental and scholastic investment. Often these environments are aggravating autistic symptoms, emphasizing the feeling of being under attack from one’s surroundings (and in the case of prisons and schools, the attacks are also from other people).
Second, there’s the exploitation model. Here, autistics are paid below-market rates to clean laundry and buildings with toxic cleaners, exacerbating their health problems. And here, autistics are paid below-market rates to make (and eat) food which makes no-one healthy (and is often a big part of the problem). It’s not that there isn’t job satisfaction here; these can be very satisfying occupations. But they aren’t best-practices. Not by a long stretch.
And third, there’s the “go-with-the-flow” model. Here we have things like a dad employing his autistic son as the local paper shredder, because this is what brings joy into his son’s life and can be considered productive, despite his son’s likely much-higher potential were he able to access optimal health care. Here we have community garden and city farming operations which benefit from autistic attention to detail, and may have very high job satisfaction. The challenge here is that for many autistics, this work doesn’t capture our true potential. Our very real skills and abilities are, in essence, rotting with the compost.
Finally, there’s Thorkil’s model, finding and releasing our autistic quirky brilliance. If you’re Canadian, won’t you consider giving right livelihood for Canadian autistics a boost? And if you’re not Canadian, does your country have a branch of Specialisterne, or something similar, which you could support in some way? And if you’re really visionary, won’t you consider starting your own “JAK Bank”, in your neighbourhood?