Helping Young Adults with Neurodiversity Reach Their Full Potential

Young adults with neurodiversity, such as these students in a UCLA skills program, are successfully taught social interaction skills.

Some of the world’s most established companies are beginning to tap into the underutilized talent pool of young adults with autism.

Every year, at least 50,000 individuals with neurodiversity will enter adulthood, according to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Autism is a disorder that has a wide spectrum, which is why they call it the autism-spectrum disorder. It ranges from the mildest form of autism called Asperger syndrome. This type of autism may show a few symptoms with slight social awkwardness. At the other end of the spectrum are those that have no verbal skills whatsoever, severe sensory sensitivity, and the need for 24/7 constant care. It is estimated that around 90% of adults who have been diagnosed with autism are either unemployed or underemployed.

Consider the story of a hard-working woman named Sarah. Sarah is a rock star. She is deaf and wanted to prove to the world that she could be employed just like everyone else. She recently completed an incredibly successful OJT experience with Sally’s Ice Cream in Flagler Beach. As a result, she had hired her on as a permanent employee. Her goal is to become a dessert chef, and at Sally’s, she is learning all about how to make vegan ice cream, homemade sauces, waffle cones, and will soon learn how to make/decorate ice cream cakes. Even cooler, the owner of Sally’s has taken a special interest in recognizing Sarah’s desire to conquer the work world and is assisting her to learn about what goes into owning your own business. Sarah is truly rocking it!

Sarah’s story is just one of many about adults with a disability succeeding in the workforce.  It is important to realize that over the last few years there has been a growth in the number of employment services for people with neurodiversity and other disabilities. These employment services help people like Sarah gain access to employment opportunities that they never had before. Non-profit employment agencies such as employU give people with autism a stronger sense of purpose in life. However, more work is needed to help more companies to recognize the talents of this often-overlooked workforce, especially in this extremely tight labor market.

With the support of The Agency for Persons with Disabilities and the American Dream Employment Network, employU is consistently expanding programs and adding staff to meet the demand of those it serves. At employU, our job is to empower our customers with the knowledge, connections and confidence required to embark on a new sustainable career that will help them reach their full potential. Our customers are given comprehensive vocational assessments and on the job training to learn appropriate skills, such as employee conduct and “soft skill” development.

As part of employU’s program, our customers are paired with and accompanied by a member of our staff who helps them complete their daily responsibilities when necessary as well as provide them with ongoing support.

Our goal at employU is to serve as a steppingstone for other agencies and organizations to develop the vocational potential of adults with autism and other disabilities. Sarah may have a disability, but because of programs such as those at employU, she has been given a great gift – to be able to live a more independent and empowered life through her success in her employment. The time is now for every person with a disability, whether it is autism, downs syndrome, PTSD, deafness, to be able to receive these same opportunities and to become contributing members of society.

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