It is high school graduation season across the country and most young adults are preparing for life in college or in the workforce. Landing a job in this economy continues to be hard for millions of people. But what if you have autism?
The good news is there are communities popping up across the country that have come up with several small business models that ease young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) into the adult world of work and self-sufficiency.
Lori Ireland and several of her friends in Chapel Hill, North Carolina have children with autism. They have become very familiar with a term known in autism circles as “The Cliff.”
“As they aged, we saw the handwriting on the wall, so to speak,” said Ireland. “The level of services really fall off.”
“The Cliff” becomes especially visible when a young person with autism reaches his or her early 20s and is no longer able to attend high school.
Laura Klinger is a leading autism researcher at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She is also Director of the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicapped Children (TEACCH).
“After graduation, about 35 percent of people with autism sit home and do nothing: not college, not employment, not vocational training,” said Klinger.
That’s why the Ireland Family and friends decided to find jobs for their autistic children, even if they had to create the jobs themselves.
“We measure ourselves a little differently,” said Gregg Ireland*. “For us, if we give someone a meaningful hour of employment, that’s our goal.”
So the business model they came up with is EV, which stands for Extraordinary Ventures. EV is responsible for several small businesses, including a successful laundry service.
At 22-years old, Patrick Eden has worked for EV Laundry for more than a year. Eden is very particular about how he sorts, washes and folds the clothes they collect. He was recently promoted to assistant manager.
“I like the people and I like giving quality work,” said Eden.
And a growing number of small businesses are employing workers with autism. Thomas D’Eri and his family opened Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida to provide meaningful work for his autistic brother.
“When car washes are run really well, they are very structured, lots of really well-defined processes,” said D’Eri. “And those are situations that people with autism really excel in.”
Experts studying autism hope the jobs keep coming, especially considering that about 50,000 children on the autism spectrum turn 18 every year in the U.S.