Many mothers of children with disabilities do not work, and the case of Simone Greggs suggests why. Caring for an autistic child like her son Jeremiah can mean that a parent needs a job with a really flexible schedule. Greggs’ story offers yet more reason to advocate for employers to have family-friendly policies.
Last year, Greggs, a single mother, thought that she had found the right job, as a walk events manager at the Washington, D.C. office of Autism Speaks, which is based in New York and has been well-known for efforts to increase autism awareness and to raise funds for research about autism. Just as Greggs was going to start her new job in May of 2012, Autism Speaks rescinded the offer. According to Greggs, “everything changed” when she asked for workplace accommodations or if she might work from home, as her autistic son returns from school early on Wednesdays.
Greggs ended up filing a discrimination lawsuit against Autism Speaks, on the grounds that the job offer had been taken back after she had asked if workplace accommodations might be possible due to her autistic child’s needs. In her suit, she charges Autism Speaks with violating the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The outcome of Greggs’s lawsuit has yet to be determined. In the meantime, she has written a self-published book, “Here’s What I Want You To Know.” Along with an account of her own story, she addressed an important issue: the racial gap in autism diagnosis. Jeremiah was not diagnosed with autism till he was in the second grade. As Greggs says,
The diagnosis came only after several tests, a mis-diagnosis, and bad advice as to the cause of his outbursts, erratic behavior and inability to get along with his peers. Although it was good to finally know the true cause of his behavior and difficulties in school, I did not always know how best to help him.
Greggs hopes that her book can in particular raise awareness in the African American, Hispanic and other minority communities. Studies have found that African-American and Latino children are on average diagnosed at an older age than white children and, too often, misdiagnosed. They therefore miss out on the chance to start educational and other therapies at as early an age as possible.
Autism organizations have sought to remedy this situation with awareness campaigns that target not only parents but also community organizations including churches and making materials available in other languages such as Spanish.
In fact, I recently saw an Autism Speaks billboard posted in Newark, a city long associated with urban woes and a flailing school system and with a predominantly African-American and Hispanic population. Thanks to the efforts of parents like Greggs and to autistic individuals stories, the word is getting out that there’s a diversity of experiences in having one’s child diagnosed with autism, in finding crucial services and in living with autism.
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