Autistic employment thrives in Mississippi

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 8, 2017

Autism is often perceived as a disease that causes severe disabilities, but that is not the truth, Supportive Employment Coordinator at Bridgeway Apartments Quannah Ramshur said. Autism may restrict individuals in respect to their speech or mental perceptions, but it does not limit their contribution to society by holding jobs.

According to a study from The Arc Autism Now, the national autism resource and information center, 59 percent of Mississippians with autism work for pay. The same study states that 78.4 percent of autistic individuals in the nation have worked for pay in the past two years.

“These individuals are some of the most dependable people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. They work hard and enjoy every second of working professionally,” Bridgeway Apartments Director Jason Kirkland said. “They won’t ever argue about working for minimal wage because they just enjoy being out in the community working, which is rare to find these days.”

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Bridgeway Apartments in Picayune is a community for people with mental or physical impairments, where every resident, including two with autism, are employed with different companies in the community. Overall, these residents hold 20 different job titles from working at local pharmacies and cleaning city facilities to operating their own vendor cart.

When an individual with autism is hired, they are accompanied by a job trainer to help get them into the rhythm of the respective responsibilities.

“With the right support system, an individual on the autism spectrum will thrive and take the smallest task to heart and master it to as close to perfection as they are capable of performing,” Susette Morrow, The Arc of Pearl River County president, said.

Leia Weems, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, South Mississippi Regional Center behavior consultant, said that there are many benefits to hiring an individual on the autism spectrum.

“Loyal, passionate, diligent,” Weems said, describing a few of the qualities autistic employees bring to the job. “These people are just like you and I and deserve the same opportunities as we do.”

Weems said that finding a job for these individuals hasn’t always been difficult, but with the struggles in finding a job in today’s society, she said it is becoming more of a challenge.

“The world needs to know that they offer the same skillsets as anyone else for the jobs they are capable of performing. They want and need money in their pockets just like the rest of us,” Kirkland said.

Employers who hire individuals on the autism spectrum, or any other disability, can benefit in ways such as potential tax credits, employee loyalty, low absenteeism, employee retention and dependable employees who are able to work 2-20 hours per week.

Kirkland said the jobs that these individuals have are all part-time, with some working about 60 hours a month.

As for the individuals, they gain self-worth and the confidence that they can contribute to society, Kirkland said, and take great pride in what they do.

“The businesses’ support in Picayune is truly remarkable,” Kirkland said. “It amazes me how open and considerate this small community is to those with autism and I hope more business realize the benefits of hiring these hardworking individuals.”