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Companies removing barriers for young adults with autism who want to work

Posted at 8:04 AM, Nov 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-06 11:24:15-05

The Good Doctor is a hit show on News 5. It is about a young man with autism who uses his unique abilities to shine as a surgeon.

The storyline is one that resonates in the real world because one in 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, most don’t have the Hollywood ending when it comes to finding a job.

According to Integrate Autism Employment Advisors, 85 percent of college graduates with autism are unemployed.

“Welcome to Milestones,” said Molly Dann-Pipinias.

Molly is a newlywed, daughter, sister, friend and coworker who also happens to have autism.

“If a neurotypical person was given an autistic brain they would freak out,” she said. “It's a very confusing place."

Repetitive tasks make sense to the 24-year-old. She loves data entry and spreadsheets, which makes her invaluable in the front office of Milestones.

However, Dann-Pipinias struggles with sensory issues you might not think twice about.

"I have a tendency to not understand things the first time or not hear it correctly or process it,” she said. “And this is pretty much the only job I’ve ever had where I can ask as many times as I need to and no one is going to get angry."

Dann-Pipinias found her dream job at Milestones, but how do more of her peers find similar success?

Ilana Hoffer Skoff is the executive director and co-founder of Milestones Autism Resources. She said the topic of employment for young adults and adults with autism is really the challenge right now for schools thinking about how to prepare their students to enter the workforce, for families and parents, and for the individuals.

“I do think it takes leaders in the corporate community and the business community to recognize the value of having diversity on their staff,” she said. “To recognize that individuals with autism - like so many other people - have strengths that they can bring to the workplace and that recognition shifts it away from 'Well, let's just do the nice thing to hire someone with a disability or with a difference,' and moving it into the conversation of this is good for business."

German software giant, SAP, has been a leader with its Autism at Work program to hire skilled colleagues, quote: "In spite of autism and because of autism."

People with ASD can struggle with social skills.

SAP changed the interview process to play to their strengths of demonstrating a skill instead of talking about it.

The company also provides workplace mentors to ensure a successful work environment.

It is a model and way of thinking that is beginning to catch on here.

For Kevin Irwin, it’s personal. His son Cory has Autism Spectrum Disorder. When Kevin’s company, First Energy, started the Thrive program this year he was all in.

“The response has been excellent,” he said. “People are interested. They want to hear more. They want to do more."

Employees created the group to help connect coworkers with disabilities to services inside and outside the company.

“We are an asset to the company,” said Michael Mosley.

Mosley doesn’t have autism but can relate to the difficulties having a disability can create in the workplace. He broke his neck and depends on a wheelchair for mobility.

He said fulfilling employment is important to the mental health of someone with a disability who wants to work, be a contributing member of society and live independently.

Mosley said Thrive is making a difference.

“It’s a way to unite us and empower us all to be ourselves,” he said. “So, instead of me just coming to work and being a number, I can come to work as Michael Mosley: A disabled man of color and I don't have to be uncomfortable about these things."

Power management company, Eaton, in Cleveland also has a new inclusion employee resource group. “Enable” is for employees managing disabilities and special needs, including autism.

Companies abroad and at home, working to level the playing field so your son, daughter, friend, and coworker can share in the success.