Conference helps young adults with autism find employment

SALT LAKE CITY -- A conference for young adults with autism discussed ways to get out in the workforce with the help of economists, researchers and business leaders on Monday.

The conference "Replacing the Autism Puzzle with a Blueprint of Social Innovation," was part of "The Bottom Line of Disabilities" series hosted by Columbus Community Center and Global Interdependence Center from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Columbus Community Center.

The purpose of the initiative elevates the discussion around disabilities, according to Stephanie Mackay, chief innovation officer at Columbus Community Center.

Mackay said young adults with autism can face many obstacles when they get out of school and out into the workforce, but Utah has "stepped up" to the challenge.

"Utah is a wonderful community. We have a great safety net. We have a lot of families," Mackay said. "You can't throw a rock without hitting a family that has a young adult with autism."

Mackay said those with disabilities are at a 65 percent unemployment rate whereas autistic adults face an 80 percent unemployment rate.

"That is literally thousands of people in our community," Mackay said. "They really do have an opportunity to move forward in life, contribute to the community and not be socially isolated and really living in poverty over their lifetimes."

Mackay said oftentimes people who see a person with autism only see the autism and not the skills that particular individual has to offer.

"What we're discovering is young adults with autism really have some incredible, special skills that are often overlooked. They have some great abilities to concentrate, to see the world through patterns that we don't always necessarily see," Mackay said.

And large corporations are starting to notice, Mackay said.

According to Mackay, those individuals give businesses an edge and are bringing innovation to the workplace because they're seeing the world outside the box.

"They are really often people who contribute to moving innovation forward and bringing new ideas to the world," Mackay said.