April is Autism Awareness Month. Because of our mission, that’s important to Adelante. However, awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is relevant to the public, too. Nearly everyone on the planet knows someone on the spectrum. In fact, autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world. It has become one of the most common forms of disability today. Currently, 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is being diagnosed with autism. Furthermore, 5.4 million adults in the U.S. are on the spectrum. That’s 2.2% of our country’s population.

autism awareness month - april graphic with multiple colored puzzle pieces.

Autism Facts

  • About 40 percent of children with autism are nonverbal. For many, language develops later than their neurotypical peers (National Autism Association, 2020).
  • Boys are four times more likely than girls, to be diagnosed with autism (U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2020). Research suggests that girls may not show autism in the same way as boys, and might go undiagnosed because of that. Girls are more likely to hide their symptoms.
  • Research indicates that genetics are involved in the vast majority of cases. 
  • Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for having autism. 
  • Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child who is also affected. 
  • Studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has autism, the other will be affected 36 to 95 percent of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has autism, then the other is affected about 31 percent of the time.  
  • Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. 

The Vast Majority of People with Autism are Unemployed

In 2021, only 19.1 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force. That means working or actively seeking work. A large proportion of people with disabilities—about 8 in 10—were not in the labor force in 2021. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Furthermore, research from Drexel University determined that people with autism are less likely than other disability groups to be employed or to pursue postsecondary education. In fact, young adults with ASDs have the highest risk of being completely disengaged from any kind of postsecondary education or employment after high school. Other data sources indicate that the vast majority of adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed. Estimates can range as high as 90%. So, what keeps people with ASD out of the workforce? After all, they could be valued employees. First, many employers don’t fully understand ASD and aren’t aware of the benefits employees with autism could bring to their company. Attention to details, quick evaluation of complex data, and comfort with doing repetitive work, for example. Second, people with autism may lack the soft skills they need to land or maintain a job. Social graces and people skills are expected in job interviews. Without them, employers may believe a candidate is uncaring or disrespectful. In truth, these situations often arise from misunderstanding. Some might say it is also a lack of empathy for people whose minds simply work a little differently than other people expect. Whatever the reasons, getting people with neurodiversity into the workforce is something that needs to be addressed. Adelante is among the organizations working on it.

DiverseIT Can Help People with Autism Get Training in Tech & Jobs

Adelante DiverseIT was developed to help people who have been traditionally excluded from tech careers to get IT training and certifications. Ultimately, we consider that work successful when our trainees get jobs. Initially, several of our initial clients were young men on the spectrum. Despite some education and even a college degree, they had not been given a chance. DiverseIT offered an opportunity for paid work, plus more training and real-world experience. It has proven to be a successful model and it continues to grow.

True to it’s name, DiverseIT expanded to support people with a variety of disabilities, but people with autism are still top candidates for those services. Not only is IT a growing, high paying field. It definitely plays to the strengths of people on the autism spectrum. In a true tech mindset, the team at DiverseIT loves to remind people of something they found online: “Autism is not a disability, it’s a different operating system.”

In April, our CEO, Rebecca Sanford, and the Vice President/CIO in charge of DiverseIT, Meta Hirschl, visited another tech-related nonprofit supporting people with neurodiversity. Their trip to Chicago provided even more new ideas for tech career paths and services the team could provide. With this model, local businesses and individuals can benefit from quality tech services while trainees get hands-on experience in IT. As an organization that thrives on innovation, Adelante cares about bringing new and successful ideas back to New Mexico.

Learn more about the training opportunities through DiverseIT here.

Other Adelante Services for People on the Spectrum

  • EmployAbility/competitive employment – Adelante was among the first supported employment teams in New Mexico. We remain among the most successful. In short, the Adelante EmployAbility program helps connect people with disabilities to jobs in the community. This team can help people practice for interviews or write resumes that highlights their skills. They can even provide job coaching in some cases. That means being trained and working alongside someone until they can be independently successful. These kinds of services can mean the difference between getting and maintaining a job or not.
  • Independent Living is another service Adelante offers. People on the spectrum often want to live in their own apartments, but need some support to do so. This Adelante team also arranges group social events to help people gain or improve their people skills. Not to mention making friends. The support provide is determined by the needs and hopes of each individual. The person comes first.
  • The Benefits Connection Center helps adults with disabilities (21 and older) to apply for government benefits. For example, help paying for groceries or utilities. It’s a one-stop screening process that let’s people know which benefits they may be eligible to receive. This Adelante team helps people to apply for government benefits, or re-enroll. Thanks to grant funding, these services are offered for free. The Benefits Connection Center can also help seniors across New Mexico.

To learn more about EmployAbility or Independent living send an email to ExploreProgram@GoAdelante.org . To learn about the Benefits Connection Center visit connecttobenefits.com or call (505)273-5222.

Autism in the Public Eye

Autism has definitely become more commonplace. In recent years, multiple television series have included characters with neurodiversity. Real people with autism have starring roles, too. From medical drama “The Good Doctor” to reality dating show “Love on the Spectrum” and quirky teen series “Atypical”, the public is learning about autism. These shows offer insights and understanding even for people who are unfamiliar with autism altogether.

More importantly, children and adults on the spectrum are seeing their peers included on major networks. That, too, is empowering. A list of some of the top shows can be found here.

Adelante hopes, thanks to this exposure to more people with neurodiversity, that more people will welcome autistic friends. In addition, that employers will include more people with autism in the workforce.

If you would like to support these Adelante programs, donate today.