When it comes to employing the neurodiverse — don’t just be nice, be kind

I’m going to be honored by Arc of Morris for my advocacy, but those doing the hiring deserve the accolade

Two big things happened in the past few weeks.

One: I was selected to be honored by Arc of Morris for my advocacy for hiring the neurodiverse. (It’s nice that people are noticing — and, more so, that so many people have made it their mission to help all those with challenges.)

Two: My autistic son, who lives in Utah, got a job. (Woo-hoo!)

Employment for those on the spectrum is difficult. Some stats show only 1 in 6 has gainful employment — but, truth be told, no one is really sure about the numbers.

This fact, however, is clear: Many of those who are employed work in jobs far beneath their ability.

So, forgive me if I ask you to hold your applause until you hear this: My son, who has accounting and management degrees from a university in Southern Utah, was just hired as a bus boy. His previous job was as a cashier.

One of his goals is to be a bank teller. He’s good with money — and has worked the register at a dozen or so fast food and retail establishments in the past decade.

He’s applied for a dozen or so jobs at banks in Cedar City, Utah, but only once was he able to even get an interview. That was considered a huge win — and a far better outcome than when he applied for a job at the school. On that occasion, he received a form-letter response a few days later that said they were “moving forward” with other candidates.

That’s right, the university passed up a chance to interview one of its own graduates. This came a few months before … wait for it …  it accepted him into the MBA program.

I struggled to get an answer for the disconnect. Then, someone at the school confided in me: People there can be “nice, but not kind.”

There’s an ableist mentality in Utah, I was told by another official. Being different is to be shunned.

To be clear — and to be fair — the people of Utah have been extraordinarily nice to my son socially. He has friends for the first time. And the slower pace of life has been a nice change from New Jersey, where the speed of things can be overwhelming at times for those on the spectrum.

But, they have not necessarily been kind at hiring time.

Thankfully, that’s not the case in New Jersey for those with special needs. Groups like Arc are doing all they can to make sure everyone has an opportunity.

Sure, not every person fits in every job — and that’s certainly the case for the so-called “neurotypical,” as well. But everyone deserves a chance.

So, I will humbly accept an honor from Arc during its annual fundraiser May 22 at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany (click here for information on how to go or contribute).

And I will accept the award with a note of gratitude for all those who are both nice and kind when it comes to hiring the neurodiverse.