Now is the Time: Father- Son Team Rocks Employment for People with Autism

José Velasco,  coordinator of SAP’s global “Autism at Work” program, and his son, José, Jr. wowed 45 fathers of young people with autism when they shared their story at Hill Top Preparatory School in Rosemont, PA on November 13, 2015. At Hill Top, “Dinners with Dad” regularly invites  current and alumni fathers, grandfathers, alumni, special friends, and community leaders for an evening of food, drinks, and meaningful conversation about raising children who learn differently.

José Velasco is VP of Products & Innovation at SAP, an international software and solutions corporation, which recognizes the unique talents that individuals with autism offer the workplace, not despite of but because of their autism.  The 73,000 employee company aims to fill 1% of its global workforce with people with ASD. José learned about autism on the job with his wife, Deya, while raising their son and daughter who both have autism spectrum disorders. This short video tells how he came to his current position at SAP.

Velasco’s son, José Velasco Jr. is pursuing a degree in software testing at the Austin Community College in Texas. While in James Bowie High School, he was on the wrestling team and built a water harvesting system as part of his Eagle Scout project. Jose, Jr. is currently employed by Home Depot as a parking lot associate, and he enjoys a passion for trains in his spare time. This news clip highlights these impressive achievements.

The highlight of the evening at Hill Top was how this father and son team told the story of José’s development from age 3 when he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). José’s older sister was also diagnosed the same year, but his parents who are both engineers adopted the attitude that, “we can figure this out.”

Some of the things they tried worked and some did not. They noticed José’s great memory skills and this became a key to his success in martial arts and later wrestling. José talked about his special interest in trains and his volunteer job since age 14 making safety announcements and serving refreshments. By the time he got to junior year in high school, José no longer needed an aid, although he did have a special homeroom. In his own words, it was like the Beatles song, he “got by with a little help from his friends.”

José blushed when he told about his first date and his first kiss in the 11th grade. He spoke with pride about collecting carts in the parking lot of a Home Depot as well as loading bulky items such as 100 pound bags of cement, cinderblocks, and lumber.

At the conclusion of their presentation, team Velasco offered the following recommendations to the fathers hanging on every word:

  • Be persistent. It pays off.
  • Spend time with people who share your interests (Scouts, trains).
  • Do things with your family.
  • Become a volunteer. Get a job.
  • Exercise, do things outside the house.
  • Study hard and use your time wisely.
  • Help others, do the right thing.

Their presentation was evidence of their family’s persistence. People with autism have various skills and can be employed in many settings. As my friend Don White from the Dallas area puts it, “development delayed is not development denied.”

Corporations like SAP are setting the pace for large and small businesses and government offices to look closer look at how they perceive people with autism and other disabilities and to create life-changing opportunities that will benefit their organizations and society as a whole.

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For more information about “Dinners with Dads,” contact Tom Needham, tneedham@hilltopprep.org

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