A Los Angeles organization is working to not only get young people with autism into the workforce, but also help them succeed.
One out of every 59 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to Autism Speaks. Studies show that young adults with autism have lower employment rates than people with other types of special needs.
The LA Speech and Language Therapy Center, an organization that provides treatment and services to children with autism spectrum disorder and other diagnoses, partnered with Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts, the largest franchise owner of Outback Steakhouse Restaurants, to create a job-training facility that helps young adults with autism receive meaningful employment and steady paychecks, the center said in a press release.
Pamela Wiley, the president of the LA Speech and Language Therapy Center, said she began the workplace readiness program three years ago because she realized the children who were educated at the Center were having trouble transitioning into adulthood.
"The biggest fear for parents is, 'Now what? All the support I had is gone. He turned 18 or 21, and I don't know what to do,'" Wiley said.
The Outback Steakhouse Training Center includes a dining room replica of the restaurant and a functional, professional kitchen. Ashley Kelley, 21, a hostess at the Outback Steakhouse in Burbank, is one of dozens of young people with autism who received job training at the replica restaurant in the LA Speech and Language Therapy Center.
Kelley said this job has allowed her to earn her own money and live independently for the first time.
"I think the biggest lesson I learned was to be confident in myself," Kelley said.
Because people with autism often have difficulty with social interactions, the work-training program focuses on developing better communication skills. It also provides sensitivity training for businesses to better understand how to work with young people who have autism.
Marty Gruetzmacher, a regional manager at Outback Steakhouse, said despite any differences, young people with autism can thrive in their jobs.
"Many of our employees coming from the center are some of our best employees. They're dependable, on time, in perfect uniform, and never miss a beat," Gruetzmacher said.
As a parent of an autistic child, Gruetzmacher said he gets a "warm feeling" knowing his daughter Jennifer, who works in a movie theater, is receiving holistic care and training.
The program has placed young people with autism at other local businesses, including UPS, CVS, and Omar's Exotic Bird Store.
Wiley said she hopes more businesses will consider hiring these young people and give them a chance to prove that they can also be successful in the workforce.
"I'm beyond proud. Every bar I set for them, they exceed. When I see them happy doing it, I feel very good.That's what keeps me going," Wiley said.
If you own a business and would like to give a young person with autism a chance to work, visit speakla.com.