Nish Parikh — friend, advocate and occasional superhero to the neurodiverse community — could not have been happier when he heard the news that Gov. Phil Murphy had signed a law allowing individuals with an autism spectrum disorder to request an official indication of their diagnosis on their driver’s license or state-issued ID.
“This is amazing — simply amazing,” he said. “It is so powerful and much needed for those on the spectrum.”
While the bill was intended to help ease interactions with law enforcement, Parikh, who has founded a hiring agency to help place those on the spectrum into the workforce, immediately saw all the possibilities — including trips to the emergency room.
“We know all the challenges individuals on the spectrum face — especially those with limited speech,” he said. “There are so many cases where there are misunderstandings because people do not have the knowledge of dealing with someone on the spectrum.
“It has created really horrifying incidences. This is a great solution to prevent some of those things from happening.”
The beauty of the bill’s impact is that it goes much deeper than just preventing bad things from happening. It also can be the impetus for helping good things to happen.
Such as employment.
The employment rate for those on the autism spectrum — despite often being eager to work — is one of the lowest of any group. Some estimates say only 1 in 6 of those who are neurodiverse are employed.
Parikh said this bill can help change that, because it addresses the biggest obstacle the neurodiverse community faces, moving autism awareness to action and then acceptance.
This all comes with a willingness to do something to help. Parikh knows this first-hand.
In 2014, he and his wife, Hetal Parikh, co-founded SourceAbled, a hiring agency with a specific mission to support the neurodiverse community. It was a natural growth out of their hiring agency, Rangam Consultants, and their efforts creating educational material for the neurodiverse community.
All of this is summed up in its mission statement: We are a business whose foundation is built on a mission to improve the quality of life for our candidates while providing exceptional service to our clients.
To do this, the SourceAbled team matches the needs of employers with the skills of their candidates.
It is not an easy process. Nor a short one. Parikh said his team will provide assistants to help with the onboarding process for as long as necessary.
It’s all part of the transition from awareness to action to acceptance.
“In the beginning, it’s learning on both sides at the workplace,” he said. “The question is: How do we build this sustainable support mechanism so that we are constantly supporting each other — and, so, individuals on the spectrum are not misunderstood but empowered by getting the support they need.”
Parikh hopes to place more than 100 workers this year — adding to the hundreds the organization already has helped place.
With each successful job action, there is more acceptance. That’s why Parikh was so excited to hear about the new identification on state IDs.
“This can be a starting point for employers to follow in their footsteps,” he said. “And the beauty of this is that it could create the need to provide more training in all facets of life.”
Some medical schools, he said, are starting to train health care professionals to better understand how to interact with those on the spectrum — why not employers, too? he asked. The notification on the identification can make all the difference, he said.
It’s a starting point.
“Increasing awareness makes a huge impact on how we communicate with people on the spectrum,” he said.
The good news: There is a desire for more training, more knowledge, more action.
In fact, Parikh said he often has more employers looking to hire those on the spectrum than he has candidates qualified to fill the requests.
The need now is for everyone to work together … better.
“Awareness alone is not the answer,” he said. “It’s not like, once we make people aware, things are going to start smoothly at the workplace. This is a challenge. And tackling some of those challenges means providing the support to the hiring teams, as well as hiring managers.”
Parikh remains optimistic. New laws and better understanding are a great start, he said.
“I see the future where we don’t need these initiatives — and that hiring best practices, onboarding processes will be customized or tweaked, so that we are screening in candidates with autism rather than screening them out.
“It’s a process, it’s a slow process, but it’s happening.”