Frontline Initiative Autism Spectrum Disorder

"Roses for Autism" An innovative model of employment for individuals with ASD


Kristine (Kris) Foss is the Director of Human Resources and Workforce Development at Ability Beyond Disability, a health and human services provider located in Bethel, Connecticut.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is the hot topic that we hear echoed across our country. As Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) we have witnessed what the tough economy has meant for the people we support.

The unemployment rate is estimated at 88% for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism Speaks has estimated that more than 500,000 young people with ASD will turn 18 over the next 10 years. These young adults possess a wide range of talents, prior experience and areas of interest.

Why, then, is the unemployment rate among people with ASD so high? They often experience challenges with communication and social situations. This can make it difficult for people with ASD to enter and navigate the workplace. Our job is to support people with ASD to overcome those challenges.

There are some promising practices and models across the country to do just that. One such model is Roses for Autism. This is a working rose farm in Guilford, Connecticut. The Pinchbeck family operated the farm for 80 years. A collapsing economy caused the business to close in 2008. A family friend and parent advocate approached the fourth-generation owner, Tom Pinchbeck, with an idea. Shortly after, Roses for Autism was born.

Roses for Autism is the first initiative of Growing Possibilities, a non-profit organization founded by Ability Beyond Disability. Individuals with a variety of abilities work together to grow, cut and package flowers. They market the arrangements through social media and traditional advertising. The flower arrangements reach customers locally and throughout the country.

Wil Swartzell is an e-marketing specialist for Roses for Autism. Wil is a successfully employed individual with ASD. Wil was recently asked about his work at the Rose Farm. He said, “What I like most is the staff. We help each other out with our weaknesses, making each other our strength. What I don’t like are the computers. Only kidding! I work very hard to keep the computers in tip-top shape! I’d actually have to say that I don’t like the temperature. My working area is located right in front of a heater that is very over-reactive. I think the heater enjoys making my workday a reenactment of walking on the sun! But I’ve got a large fan at my desk so that helps a lot. Most of the time I’ll take a break in the cooler.”

It might sound like a simple solution but it demonstrates how creative approaches can help a person overcome barriers at work. A DSP can make a big difference by getting to know a person well. A DSP can contribute ideas based on conversations with the person and through observation.

Roses for Autism also includes a Career Training Program (CTP). The CTP is for adults with ASD who are interested in finding meaningful work and living independent lives. People in the CTP learn skills that will help them to be successful in a variety of work settings. Some of these skills include working as a team, effective communication, customer service, marketing, agriculture and floral design.

Roses for Autism is an example of a promising model for businesses large and small. It shows that partnering with providers to successfully hire and retain individuals with ASD can help achieve business goals.