Workplace special needs challenges shown in new Israeli reality series | #specialneeds | #kids

Finding a job is a challenge for everyone, but those with special needs face huge obstacles and their struggles and triumphs are the subject of a gripping and moving new reality series from Kan 11, an adaptation of a British series, Employable Me (in Hebrew, Tnu L’avod) that begins on July 14 at 9 p.m. (and will be available on the Kan 11 website). While the fact that navigating the job market is especially difficult for those with disabilities comes as no surprise, rather than dwelling on the participants as victims, this series explores how in many ways, they manage to hone skills both in spite of and because of their challenges. These skills can make them extraordinarily productive at many jobs – if only employers will give them a chance. 

It also adds a coaching element, where Ofer Golan, a clinical psychologist specializing in autism at Bar-Ilan University, and other specialists help them find out where their skills lie and prepare them for interviews. 

The series lets us get to know each of the participants for who they are and emphasizes how much they have to contribute. It may make you angry at times, as they talk about how often they have been underestimated or ignored, but more often, you will root for them. The format of going through the job-search process has built-in suspense that will keep you entertained and the series is well photographed and has a nice soundtrack. 

Those featured on the show include people on the autism spectrum, as well as those with Tourette Syndrome and cerebral palsy. In the first two episodes that were released to the press, the focus is on those on the autism spectrum. Early on in the first episode, Golan shares the statistic that 70% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed and the 30% of those who do have work do not necessarily have work that is commensurate with their abilities and which may not be steady. 

Said Golan: “It’s a statistic that evokes despair… It says something about the difficulty these people face and it means that they are forced to support themselves from government stipends or rely on their families, and that says something about us as a society.”

The series looks at several people on the spectrum who are completely different from each other in spite of the fact that they share the same diagnostic label, illustrating a comment by Dr. Steven Shore, an American professor who is on the autism spectrum: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

OR BARTOR, one of those profiled, is a 30-year-old with high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome (these terms are often used interchangeably) who, like many of the participants, lives at home and has worked only sporadically at menial jobs. He is a fountain of knowledge on many subjects, including linguistics, and he designs costumes for the theater, creating complex and beautiful hats and clothing that emphasize the characters’ personalities. But in spite of his creativity and self-taught designing and sewing skills, at the beginning of the series, he cannot catch a break. A well-known designer invites him to come in for an interview and a tryout, but because he has not yet mastered certain intricate craft skills required, he is not hired. However, the designer gets high praise from Golan for telling Bartor exactly what he needs to work on. As Bartor speaks with his extremely supportive mother afterwards and both say that the main thing is that he tried, you can feel the weight of years of rejection and the toll it has taken on both of them. I look forward to seeing him develop with coaching in upcoming episodes. 

Aviad London, 32, who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, said he “very much does not like the word ‘disabled’” because he feels he can work as well as anybody. He has a track record working in Quality Assurance (QA) for software, a highly demanding field, but was fired twice during the pandemic – not furloughed, but laid off – in spite of his skills. “Let me work already!” he pleaded as he spoke to Golan. 

ALTHOUGH MOST people on the autism spectrum are male – autism is diagnosed in four-five times as many males as females – there are many women with autism and Golan speculates it is under diagnosed in females. Daria Itzkovich grew up knowing she had dyslexia – and was often bullied and criticized for that by uncaring, ignorant teachers as well as mean kids – and was diagnosed with autism in her 20s. Hyper-aware of sounds and visual data, she discovers that she is highly skilled in the field of tagging, where images need to be identified and cataloged for many technical uses. When Golan tells her she achieved “phenomenal success” on an aptitude test, her joy is palpable and you may find yourself tearing up as you watch. 

The participants are a winning group and Golan is exceptionally good at explaining their challenges in a way that is illuminating and not reductive. 

As the mother of a young man on the autism spectrum who is not able to work in the regular job market but who does have many skills, I would urge the producers to consider creating a second season that would explore the world of supervised work settings for people who are designated “lower functioning.” Improving such sheltered settings could be the next step in the inclusion revolution for people with disabilities.

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