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This VCU program connects young adults with autism with opportunities

This VCU program connects young adults with autism with opportunities
Posted at 6:31 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 18:31:41-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- April is autism awareness month and according to some parents, resources to support those with autism become increasingly harder to find as children get older.

Carissa Garabedian is one of those parents.

Her son Marky Garabedian is set to graduate this May. She said in her search for post-graduate programs, she struggled to find something whether it be continuing his education or finding a job.

Marky was first diagnosed with autism when he was two years old.

“Everything he does is a little bit more challenging and he asks for nothing. And just goes with the flow and adapts. It's a daily gentle reminder of his innocence and the peace that he brings," she said.

Just months away from graduating, Garabedian said finding resources for Marky in and outside of school has been an uphill battle.

“Once he got to high school, there was really nothing available,” Garabedian said. “It's always trying to figure out and, and create pockets that that might work."

Marky was accepted into VCU's Project Search, the year-long program that gives those with disabilities an opportunity to gain work experience.

Dr. Caroll Schall is the Co-Director of VCU's Autism School for Excellence.

“They still have a teacher, but they also have a job coach. And the whole focus of the program is teaching you to work," she explained.

Garabedian is glad she found it but said it's one of very few programs available. According to Forbes, the unemployment rate for those with autism stands at around 80%, a number both women feel should be much lower.

“They're just as capable and able to be full citizens contributing citizens to our society as anyone else.” Dr. Schall said. “We found that individuals with autism frequently have strengths that their peers without disabilities don't have.”

She said along with more post-graduate programs, she encourages more employers to hire young adults like Marky.

“Really think about people with autism as a gift that they could give to their employee workforce to help them really get their jobs done," Schall said. "That people with autism really help increase the diversity of thought and the diversity of ways of working."

As Marky continues to piece together the puzzle of life, his mother hopes others will find a place for pieces like Marky in their puzzles.

"If more would open their doors, I can't even imagine what that could be like,” she said.