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Education, employment and adults with autism

January 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
One-point-five million people in the United States have autism. Los Angeles County is expecting a dramatic increase in the number of adults with autism in the next five years. One local group is looking for ways to help these adults find housing, jobs, even careers.

Tom Iland just moved in with his girlfriend and passed the test to become a certified public accountant.

"Seeing things through, that's what makes things happen," said Tom.

His future looks bright. The only thing standing in his way: the preconceived notions people may have about him. Tom is an adult with autism.

"Like 80 percent of people with autism don't have a job and that's far higher as you know than the average unemployment rate," said Emily Iland, president of the Autism Society of Los Angeles, and Tom's mother.

The Autism Society of Los Angeles put together a forum for parents, teachers and employers. Together they're finding way to help adults with autism get education and employment.

Steve Miller is the executive director of the Tierra del Sol Foundation, which trains people with disabilities and places them in jobs.

"People with disabilities including autism, can contribute to the workplace," said Miller. "They bring value to the workplace."

Miller often tells employers a diverse workforce can improve a company's image and profitability.

But Tom knows for an adult with autism to get a job, not only do they have to be trained, they have work on overcoming social inabilities.

"My social skills were underdeveloped," said Tom. "I had to be taught. It didn't come to me naturally about body language, facial expressions, eye contact, all of these factors we sometimes overlook."

Adults with autism aren't the only ones who need training for the workplace. Experts say people in the workplace also need education.

"People in the workplace need to understand people with autism that there's a patterns of differences, and it's not that someone intends to be rude, but that they just don't have the same social understanding," said Emily.

"Let your employer know, 'I have this disability, this is difficult for me, and you can help me by doing A, B and C," said Tom.

Tom credits his mom for always believing he could have a meaningful life. It's advice she offers to other parents.

"Doing nothing and having no plan doesn't work. You do have to say, 'OK, what's the best possible outcome' and work for it," said Emily.

Other issues covered in Wednesday's meeting included how to find housing, healthcare and post-secondary education.