Autism and Employment: Hope on the Horizon

Trainees working in small groups.
Trainees working in small groups.

August 17, 2015. From August 3-7, I was involved in an exciting project training young adults with autism for high tech jobs. This intensive 5 day program was organized by the Arc of Philadelphia and titled “Soft Skills for the Workplace.”  This event was the fruit of collaboration between a non-profit (Arc), private industry (SAP), the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, and Montgomery County Community College. I and self-advocate Dr. Stephen Shore were the lead trainers along with The Arc of Philadelphia staff, Tanya Regli (executive director), Tom Cory, and Sabra Townsend.

For 5 days, from 8 AM to 3 PM, 25 young people were energetically engaged learning and developing the social or “soft skills” they need to put their “hard skills” to use in the workplace where they have previously been unemployed or underemployed. Using a variety of teaching strategies, the unique curriculum topics such as:

With co-presenter Stephen Shore.
With co-presenter Stephen Shore.
  • Improving conversation skills
  • Sensory differences and coping strategies
  • Self-advocacy and self-disclosure skills
  • Stress management (or meltdown prevention)
  • Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media

(An in-depth report on the transition to adulthood for young adults with autism is available through the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.)

Autism does not end when a child reaches adulthood; unemployment and underemployment are extremely high for adults with autism even for those with college degrees. Stress for families goes up once formal education is over and services are few and far between especially for those without cognitive disability. Many parents live in a state of chronic desperation. From the families I meet at conferences or in my psychology practice, I frequently hear “I cannot even die” or “Our nest will never be empty.”

Trainees working on personal plans in computer lab.
Trainees working on personal plans in computer lab.

Of the 25 individuals who attended this training, 5 are already employed through theSAP “Autism at Work” Program. The others will begin internships at SAP or other companies open to hiring people with autism who have technical skills in the near future. It’s a win-win. Companies get dedicated workers who are grateful to be employed with good skills and attention to details. Government costs for services are decreased, and families can breathe a sigh of relief.

Socializing after the week-long training was completed.
Socializing after the week-long training was completed

The autism and special needs community has a long way to go to provide a meaningful future for those able to work. Going forward, I will be working with Stephen Shore and the Arc of Philadelphia to develop this training so that it can be replicated by other trainers in various locations and for a wide range of  jobs.

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  1. As my grandson’s advocate, I often think, “What will happen when I die?” Now our children have more than hope for a successful future. Thank you for your tireless efforts for our autism community.


  2. What a wonderful project! It should be replicated as much as possible to help those with autism succeed socially so they can share their amazing gifts/technical skills in the workplace. Thank you!


  3. Thank you for the article. Sounds like a great thing! Any plans to repeat this program? Do you have plans to run this program in New York? Thank you again!


  4. This is wonderful, Robert! I will contact you soon about another training opportunity for these young people coming to the Philly area in October, to help them be safe in the community and the workplace!


  5. We are very interested in this program for our son. We live in Bucks county, can we get information on getting him into this program?


    1. As of now there are no trainings scheduled. It is important that your son be registered with Vocational Rehabilitation and then stay in touch with the Arc of Philadelphia who is the sponsor of the training mentioned in this blog. Right now we are seeking funding to continue and expand the training.


  6. What a great blog! I have a special interest in helping young adults with autism become independent and successful. Please contact me if I can get involved in this project.


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