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Not Your Typical Transition: Entering the Workforce with Autism

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen



More than 3.5 million Americans living with autism are learning to transition into mainstream jobs.

With no uncertainty, like most teenagers, they face countless challenges struggling to shift toward independent living and employment. Despite a great education or parents who cater to their child with autism’s needs, it can still be difficult to make the transition. The progression from early childhood to independent living with autism is like piecing together a complicated puzzle. Parents aim to remain optimistic throughout the process and provide support for their children with autism.

Gilbert resident Renata Irving is a single mom of two adult sons, one with autism and the other without. Both are faced with the life-skill goal of making a smooth transition into the workforce. According to Irvin, who backs both her sons, stereotypes about autism causes a not so typical transition for one.

“All I used to hear is there’s something wrong with your baby,” she said. “Or people would say there’s nothing wrong with him.”

In 1994, her oldest son, Sam Irving, 27, was diagnosed with what was then a rare condition called autism. Twenty-two years later, the number of children born with autism has increased tremendously. According to the CDC, one in 68 children are diagnosed with some form of autism.

Schools make accommodations, new legislation passes, and research advances, but the puzzle remains challenging. Public school programs lack consistency, students with autism often get bullied, mistreated, and overlooked, and many parents are consistently fighting for change.

As a result, specialty schools craft curriculums for students with autism only, enabling them to soar in a safe environment. The Autism Academy for Education and Development operate specialty campuses in Gilbert, Tempe, and Peoria, educating nearly 300 students. As a school for children with autism, the administration is able to cater directly to students and address their needs. By incorporating support for children with autism and giving them the ability to have a great education and learn social skills, the Autism Academy is able to create a safe learning atmosphere for the students.

School transition specialist Karen Durst is helping high school students transition smoothly after graduation from the Autism Academy. The transition team is targeting daily living, technology, and employment skills amongst a host of other training and curriculum preparations. Durst is avoiding the unnecessary labor of reinventing a new transition curriculum.

“We’re just creating a curriculum map to illustrate the big picture of how we get there,” she said. “Currently, we’re learning their interests and desires.”

Transitioning students with autism into the workforce is not a typical task, but some supporters in the autism community have proven unlimited possibilities. Both Irving’s sons recently landed jobs in Gilbert at “Not Your Typical Deli.” The new restaurant is partnering with the autism community with hands-on training that produces real wages. Read, RECIPES THAT WORK: Awesome Despite Autism, to learn more.

Autism defines the difference between the Irving brothers, but they’ve mapped a similar journey into the mainstream workforce.

If your child has autism and you want to send them to a school that is able to meet their needs, contact us.

For Education and Development

P: 480.240.9255
F: 480.718.8518

Gilbert Campus 1540 N. Burk Street Gilbert, AZ 85234
Tempe Campus 7541 S. Willow Drive Tempe, AZ 85283
West Valley 6810 W. Thunderbird Rd. Peoria, AZ 85381
623-979-9593 480-347-9492