How enterprising parents are creating jobs for their children with autism
Jeremiah Rodriguez, CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro
Published Saturday, May 18, 2019 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 4, 2019 9:32PM EDT
Shannon Hill started a business in Saskatoon In April with her teenage son in mind.
She launched the gift-boxing business "4 U Box” in an effort to give 18-year-old Colby Hill, who has autism, meaningful employment.
“Ninety per cent of people with autism are unemployed or underemployed,” Shannon Hill told CTV News. “That's an epidemic of people who not employed or not able to be supported in a workplace.”
She’s among parents who are becoming entrepreneurs to create jobs for their children with autism because they say businesses aren’t hiring them.
One in 66 children are diagnosed with an autism and one of the biggest worries for parents is what their kids will do for work when they grow up.
In Canada, the vast majority of people on the spectrum are unemployed, with workplaces afraid to hire them, unable or unwilling to accommodate the hours to provide the extra help they might need.
Hill’s business mails gift boxes for weddings and baby showers and one of Colby’s tasks is to help fill the boxes. The company is now taking orders and has already shipped out 20 boxes. The company is even listed on Shopify.
“This is something he can do and … he can say, ‘I can have a job,’” she said. Colby is being shadowed right now but the hope is that he’ll be able to mail the products himself.
Then there’s Made by Brad, a furniture-assembly company in Edmonton created with the same idea in mind. The business enlists Brad Fremmerlid, 30, to quickly build IKEA furniture or BBQ appliances, his father said.
“It brought his level of interaction, communication and happiness way up,” said his father, Mark Fremmerlid. “It gives him a place in society where he feels good.”
Over the past five years, he estimates his son has made about $40,000 from his projects. Part of this money is used to pay some of the travel expenses of Brad’s support worker who drives him to each job.
Some studies suggest self-employment might be one of the few ways to tackle the dismal unemployment rate among developmentally-delayed young adults.
Another example is the non-profit gourmet popcorn business, Popcorn for the People, started by Steven Bier from New Jersey. He felt his son Sam was being underutilized, simply pushing around empty shopping carts at his old job.
“No one is stepping up to help. The government means well but the government can only do so much,” Bier said, praising some “kind-hearted” businesses that do hire those with intellectual differences.
The company has grown to where it sells the flavoured popcorn internationally, and it now employs several other adults with developmental disorders. “It’s jobs, jobs, jobs," Bier said.
And now he's proud to have have created a thriving business -- like the others born out of necessity.
“I, as a parent, have to get out there are solve this problem for my child,” he said.