Autism RibbonToday’s blog post celebrates Autism Awareness Month. Read more to learn how our guest blogger has helped people with Autism in his community find job training and success in the work place through their Project SEARCH programs.

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Tapping New Talent: People with Autism

Apr 20, 2017
Autism Ribbon

By Tom Heinz, founder and Executive Director of East Bay Innovations, San Leandro, CA

Over the last 10 years, a lot has been written about the dramatic increase in the number of young people diagnosed with Autism. During that time, my Employment Network (EN), East Bay Innovations (EBI), has started to serve young people with Autism. As this population leaves the public education system, we help them set employment goals, gain training and find jobs.

Getting ready to work

At first, we struggled to find the right employment sector for these young people, who were not a fit for many of the careers people with other cognitive disabilities were well suited for. Pre-employment intervention and training programs have become a clear answer and a good path to success for people with Autism. According to a recent study in the journal Autism, transitional programs that offer rehabilitation and training options for people with disabilities have increased their chances of employment.

The study focused on Project SEARCH plus Autism Spectrum Disorder Supports, a program that works with people in their last year of high school. The program offers work-targeted education and internships with large community businesses, like hospitals and banks. The experience helps participants develop important job skills that can help them find, get and keep competitive employment. Learn more about Project SEARCH and its effect on employment.

Maximizing talents

EBI became aware of the Project SEARCH training model in 2007. Soon after, we established two Project SEARCH training programs, one at Oakland Children's Hospital and another at the Administrative Offices for the County of Alameda. When these programs got off the ground, we started to better understand the potential talent that people with Autism really represented for employers. Many participants we worked with could do complex tasks well as long as the task was systematic. Some examples include:

  • Typing 90 words per minute with accuracy
  • Proofreading documents with excellent attention to detail
  • Assessing inventories with attention to expiration dates

Program participants learned how to translate their unique talents into job skills, offering them the chance to find permanent jobs with living wages and career paths including promotions, raises or both. Because of the earning potential offered by the jobs, many of our clients have been able to earn their way off Social Security disability benefits. And because they now make more money than they were receiving, they’re able to afford a better quality of life.

Ongoing employment support

We also understand the importance of continuous support, so EBI offers long-term support and job coaching. This support is especially effective for people with Autism because we help clients navigate the complex world of communication and social cues in professional settings.

Since starting our two Project SEARCH programs, we have helped place more than 50 people in competitive jobs. We have also earned awards for our successful job placement rates from the International Project SEARCH. To learn more about our Project SEARCH programs and how EBI and Project SEARCH help people with Autism find support and training to help them work, check out more information about the project.

About the guest blogger

Tom Heinz is the founder and Executive Director of East Bay Innovations (EBI), an Employment Network with the Ticket to Work program. EBI is a non-profit agency serving approximately 400 people with disabilities throughout Alameda County, CA. He has provided employment services since 1986. He has a master's degree in Rehabilitation Administration from University of San Francisco.

About Ticket to Work

Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

Learn More

To learn more about Ticket to Work, visit and contact the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket to Work Find Help tool. 

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