Midstate group’s message about hiring people with autism: Do it

HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – April is Autism Awareness Month, and now a local group is showing the Midstate how it’s helping employ people on the spectrum.

For any employer looking for that next hire, this group has a message for you.

The Hershey Country Club employs dozens of people. One of them, a 23-year-old named Patrick, is an example for other young adults like him.

Patrick, who has autism, has worked at the club since the fall, scanning and saving documents one at a time into an electronic system. His job search started at the Vista School in Hershey.

MaryLou Miller runs career development at the center for both students and the adults they provide services for.

The first step in their process is just figuring out what students and adults want to do and what they can contribute to potential employers.

Students and clients spend time one-on-one with instructors to try different types of tasks, like stocking vegetables and sorting silverware.

Vista’s goal is meaningful employment for everyone.

“It is real employment and we want it to be a win-win situation,” Miller said. “It’s not charity; it’s not part of a training program.”

ABC27 caught up with another client showing us another step in the process: work assessments. Matt spent part of the afternoon cleaning display cases at the Hershey Story Museum. Volunteers like Matt go to different companies around the area and just try different stuff.

“If you can give him the idea of the start of a task,” Matt’s life skills instructor, Matt Sheaffer, said, “he can run with it.”

Matt is waiting to hear back about a job right now, so the next time he works it’ll be for a paycheck.

“And just be happy at what they’re doing and have a social life in the process,” Sheaffer said.

Of course, autism is a spectrum; some people will be more able to perform certain jobs, and some won’t need the kind of training Vista provides.

But Miller is clear: “Hiring someone with autism isn’t hiring someone with a disability.”

It might come with new challenges for employers, she said, which is why Vista also trains them on the best ways to work with their new employees. But overall, their clients offer a unique set of abilities, like sticking to a routine and thriving in repetitive tasks (like Patrick’s constant scanning) that other employees hate.

Vista’s advice to employers this Autism Awareness Month: Hire people like him.

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