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Some employers find those with autism especially suited for jobs

Eric Thomas wipes down glass studio door Brookdale Music

Eric Thomas wipes down the glass to a studio door at Brookdale Music

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The challenge of finding work is magnified for individuals with disabilities such as autism, who often have difficulty with social interaction.

Experts and parents are trying to change that by helping employers understand what this population has to offer.

“There’s an untapped pool of potential workers available in the special needs community that can really do a great job for many employers,” said Naperville resident Karen Thomas, whose 19-year-old son, Eric, is autistic. Eric works part time as a janitor at Brookdale Music in Naperville.

Turning Pointe Autism Foundation recently launched a career development program that involves partnering with Fortune 500 companies such as Walgreens, and includes courses that address career and life skills. Individuals learn in a mock environment before transitioning into an actual workplace.

One such place is Aspiritech, a nonprofit in Highland Park that hires high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum to test software.

Moshe Weitzberg, director of operations, said Aspiritech has 14 employees, including his 32-year-old son, who has Asperger’s syndrome. His workers have the ability to spot irregularities that other people would miss. They also deal with challenges related to their autism — some do not like noise or bright lights and many have anxiety issues. Aspiritech has an autism specialist who provides support that extends beyond the workplace.

“This is something that not every company is willing to do,” Weitzberg said.

Professor Scott Standifer of the University of Missouri’s Disability Policy and Studies office said that businesses that hire people with autism “can have not only loyal employees, but loyal customers that come attached to them as family members, advocates and friends.”

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