April 12, 2012

Changing the rules: College and career paths for teens with autism

Eric Hogan, a repair technician at C Spire Wireless who has Asperger’s syndrome, is featured in a recent article:  Repair tech goes to bat for autistic pros. But the story’s not about his 9-to-5; it’s about his very own start-up, AutVantage, which Hogan hopes will help IT professionals on the autism spectrum find jobs. He has more than courage and tenacity in his favor – he also has interested investors and a partnership with a staffing agency.

Although no one knows the exact rate of unemployment (or underemployment) for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, “most experts agree the rate is as high as 85 percent,” writes Cassandra Mickens, the author of the piece. And with a very large number of teens on the spectrum now transitioning into adulthood after receiving years of specialized support, colleges and employers can expect more applicants with autism. Hogan says (quoted by Mickens), “This represents an increased responsibility … It also represents a prime opportunity for entrepreneurs to start companies that capitalize on their unique talents and abilities.”

It’s extremely important, of course, that people with autism receive the education and training they’ll need to qualify for the job opportunities that will be available. College programs, like The Achieve Degree, are changing the rules in higher education and, as a result, opening up a number of professional career paths.

To achieve success in his career, and now as an entrepreneur, Hogan worked with the characteristics of his autism, such as hyper-focus and deep knowledge. Colleges and workplaces will benefit from doing the same. Our approach with The Achieve Degree is to structure the online bachelor’s program to compliment the way the mind works for many teens with autism. For example, our sessions are shorter than regular semesters to allow for more intensely focused study, and our courses run year-round so that student habits – and momentum – remain consistent.

We understand that those on the spectrum are not only talented, but also productive. They are intelligent and capable. Through the example of dedicated individuals like Hogan (and as more and more people with autism enter the workforce), we believe employers will begin embracing these attributes, as well.

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