Local company finds autism really works

Autism works

KANNAPOLIS, NC (WBTV) - If you want to put a face to resolve, look straight at Eric Yohman and Joe Malinowski.

"I'm wiping down desks," said Yohman.

"We've got three jobs today," said Malinowski. Three jobs is significant because the two of them had struggled to land just one.

"I just have a difficulty understanding body language sometimes," said Malinowski.

Picking up on social cues is an issue for both Joe and Eric. It's because both have a form of autism. It affects one in 68, making it the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States.

"Reading emotions is a deficit people on the spectrum have and that holds them back because they may not (job) interview as well," said Malinowski.

Janet Schultz, owner of BlueJ EcoFriendly Small Office Cleaning, had an issue of her own.

"I was having a difficult time finding employees who were detailed driven who were focused that didn't mind a routine," said Schultz.

Finding and keeping good workers made her think of her previous career. Schultz was a special education teacher. She knew through experience many with autism had the exact skill-set she was looking for. She reached out to Autism Speaks for guidance. One hire turned into two and eventually three.

"It's just an opportunity and if they capitalize on the opportunity then we help them to develop their skills and their strengths," said Schultz.

It's estimated more than 1.5 million people in the United States have autism. Most are under the age of 21, but things are changing quickly. 50,000 are transitioning into adulthood every year.  They are aging out of schools and resources and opportunity.

"The largest misconception is probably that people (think those) on the autism spectrum are mentally handicapped," says Malinowski.

He says it's been a challenge and at times very frustrating to convince people he's perfectly capable.

"It's hard for me to describe, but its almost like there was some sort of set of rules that everyone else seemed to know, or an attribute that everyone else had but I just lacked," said Malinowski. "But I never put my thumb on it."

He doesn't need to worry about it anymore. Joe is working his way through college. He's a political science major at UNC Charlotte.

"It's good to have some structure to something besides the academics all the time," said Malinowski.

The cleaning job for Joe is a transition, but for Eric it might just be his career, thanks to someone just giving him chance.

"(Eric) was at home doing nothing and wanted to be productive," said Schultz.

Not only is Eric productive and drawing a paycheck, he just got a raise. Two years after first being hired he is now a supervisor.

"It made me good about myself," said Eric Yohman.

"It's been incredible," said Tim Vaughn.

Vaughn works for Hilbish Ford in Kannapolis, one of Blue-J's clients.  He says he'd had trouble finding a reliable cleaning company. Not anymore.

"It's really a feel good thing, everyone feels wonderful about it and they are part of the family," said Vaughn. "The biggest recommendation is I would do it all over again."

"I wanted to work for years. I'd known I could be a good worker for years," said Malinowski. "It was just no one wanted to take a chance on me."

Employment has become a focus for Autism Speaks over the past few years. Schultz got help in the hiring process through a local grant offered by the organization. (Click here for more information on hiring those with autism)

Schultz's company is proof how will those with autism can work and she is willing to help any other company take the step. (Click here for contact information)

"We create an actual environment in which they can work on the challenges they face head on," said Schultz. "Every time they have risen to the occasion."

The largest autism related fundraiser in the Carolinas is October 17th. zMax Dragway will host the Greater Charlotte Walk Now for Autism Speaks. The organization hopes to raise $380,000 this year. (Click here to learn more)

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