Local company finds opportunities for those with autism

Local company finds opportunities for those with autism

In the rambunctious world of doggie day care, where animals are constantly bouncing and yipping, you find a calm voice. It belongs to Nate Davis.

"Hi, Dixie, hi Shiloh," said Davis as he mingled and petted the dogs in one of the play areas at Camp Bow Wow. "I love dogs."

The 25-year-old has been working at the Matthews kennel for the past couple of months.

"I love coming into work. The dogs come greet me," said Davis. "It's a great feeling."

Davis is actually part of a very small minority. He has autism, one in 68 do, so that is not the unique part. The rarity is having the developmental disorder and a job.

A lot of the credit for Nate finding work goes to Lindsey Haaser.

"Nate is amazing," said Haaser. "He loves working."

In 2008, in the midst of the recession, she left her secure job as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and started her own company called Advocations. It matches those with a disability to a company willing to learn and maybe adjust their way of thinking a little.  It was a tough going early on.

"I knew in my heart I was doing something good and something that could really add value to our community and so I stuck with it," said Haaser. "I wanted to elevate the status of people with disabilities."

1,700 people are glad she stuck with it. It is how man she and her staff, now operating out of an office in Charlotte's South End, have been able to place into the workforce in nearly every kind of job. It's 1,700 lives that have been changed.

"Right (their lives) and their family's lives," said Haaser. "Think about your job and we have clients who post on Facebook who say I can't wait until Monday so I can get back to work. I don't even know when was the last time I felt like that." said Haaser.

Last fall, Advocations was awarded a grant from Autism Speaks to look for ways to create more opportunity for those with autism.  Nearly half of those on the spectrum have average to above average intelligence, many though struggle with communication and social skills, so 90 percent are unemployed or underemployed.

"People focus on what is a disability job and that really pigeonholes people into opportunities," said Haaser. "Our goal is to really match what that person's skill set to what your business wants to accomplish."

What's more, research shows the more education someone with autism has, the harder it is to find work. Part of the reason is the social awkwardness that comes with autism. It can make it a challenge getting through a job interview.

"The reason why is because the barriers we put into the way someone gets a job are naturally sort of positioned against somebody on the autism spectrum so we have people who are very high skilled, but may not have the social skills to give the interviewer the warm fuzzies," said Haaser. "It's something people aren't talking about and it needs to change."

Davis' dream job was working with dogs. The bonus to the paycheck he now earns is the friendships he is building.

"I like the people I work with they are really nice people," said Davis.

People like Candace Phillips.

"He is very positive," said Phillips. "He is upbeat, he never comes in a bad mood. He always just cares about the dogs and cares about us."

Phillips got Davis up to speed when he was hired and she says she's thrilled Camp Bow Wow gave him the chance to prove himself.

"It makes you feel good that you are working for someone like that, clearly giving everyone an opportunity."

And Davis has certainly made the most of it.

"It has been a good fit for me, yes," said Davis.

The grant, Advocations received from Autism Speaks is made possible through fundraisers like the Walk for Autism Speaks. The Greater Charlotte chapter's walk is October 22nd. Click here for walk details or to start a team. Click here to join or donate to the WBTV walk team.

If you'd like to learn more about job placement through Advocations, or have a business interested in learning more about hiring, click here. 

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