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Autism Speaks awards $105,000 in funding to boost employment and entrepreneurship

NEW YORK (September 7, 2016) – The path to a fulfilling career can be full of hurdles, and is often especially challenging for people with autism spectrum disorder. National data indicate that the vast majority are unemployed or underemployed. As part of the organization’s efforts to increase access to employment opportunities, Autism Speaks has awarded $105,000 in funding that will expand entrepreneurship and small business job options for adults on the autism spectrum. The Small Business Technical Assistance Awards connect employment consultants who specialize in autism with aspiring entrepreneurs and job candidates, as well as small-business owners who want to hire and support them. The consultants will provide personalized assistance in launching a small business and succeeding in the workplace.  

“Small businesses have the potential to play a significant role in opening the doors to employment for young adults and adults with autism,” said Lisa Goring, Autism Speaks chief program and marketing officer. “The goal of these awards is to help connect small businesses with qualified individuals with autism in jobs that capitalize on their specific strengths and interests so that everyone benefits. These programs will also empower entrepreneurs on the spectrum with the job skills and social skills that are so important to career success and independence.”

Autism Speaks awarded $35,000 to each of three career programs, based on their experience and expertise, ability to provide technical assistance to small businesses that employ people with autism, the programs’ community networks and plans for outreach. The selected programs help clients learn to manage their challenges and choose their unique career paths. A few examples:

Terrence Fenner excels at repetitive, methodical tasks and types 132 words per minute – more than triple the average speed – with near-perfect accuracy. With guidance from Advocations, in Charlotte, N.C., he found a career in the field of data entry. Another Advocations client, Kristin Dusharm, is a quality assurance manager at a bank and has an exceptional ability to identify patterns. By spotting a discrepancy in a pattern of numbers, she saved her company $100,000.

Liz Beu benefited from a customized assessment of skills and interests. A fitness buff, she found her niche as a strength and circuit-training instructor and has coached more than 100 clients. She credits the career consultants at Food for Good Thought, in Columbus, Ohio. “They helped me learn to advocate for myself,” she said, “and helped me teach others to advocate for themselves, as well.”

Award recipients:

Food for Good Thought - Columbus, Ohio
Program:  Working Outside the Box

Food for Good Thought creates innovative employment opportunities in central Ohio and has helped dozens of people with autism start small businesses in graphic design, toy-making, soap-making, tourism and more. With the Autism Speaks award, the Working Outside the Box program will provide technical assistance, training and mentoring to hundreds of people in their chosen field. Each mentoring team will include a consultant with autism who has expertise in that specific field and who will also earn an hourly wage.

Celebrate EDU - Boulder, Colo. 
Program: Supported Entrepreneur Education and Training

Celebrate EDU’s online education platform teaches people with autism how to turn their passions and skills into viable careers. The Autism Speaks award will support training programs that encourage entrepreneurship through personal assessments, video lessons and interactive workshops for 150 young adults. The grant also funds 15 scholarships and informational events in 10 cities, where local entrepreneurs will share their stories and coach career-seekers.

Advocations LLC - Charlotte, N.C. 
Program: Disability Think

Advocations provides talent acquisition and consulting services for employers, as well as career coaching and performance management for job-seekers with disabilities. With the Autism Speaks award, Advocations will work with the city of Charlotte to assemble a disability task force of entrepreneurs with autism, established business owners and other stakeholders. This task force will develop strategies that can be adapted and replicated elsewhere to improve employment and entrepreneurship outcomes for people with disabilities. The Disability Think program will coach 75 people with autism on problem-solving and brainstorming using a proven entrepreneurial process called design thinking, which can be applied to any business.

About Autism

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, and repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 68 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum. 

About Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed more than $570 million to its mission, the majority in science and medical research. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships in more than 70 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit