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Calls to Action

Town hall focuses on the need to employ people with autism

January 26, 2016

On Saturday, January 16, the Georgia chapter of Autism Speaks hosted an Employment Town Hall, the second of an Adult Services Town Hall series in the area. Almost two hundred fifty parents, caregivers, and individuals with autism attended the Town Hall, which was supported by Bennett Thrasher and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.

The event began with a Resource Fair of twenty local autism service providers, all of whom were able to provide families with resources in the area of adult services, including employment. Additionally, all attendees received a copy of the Autism Speaks Employment Tool Kit and its supplemental materials. Kaitlyn Morris, Manager of Field Development for Georgia and Tennessee, kicked things off by introducing Elizabeth Waddey, Program Coordinator for the Blonder Family Department for Special Needs at MJCCA, who explained the transition services available at the JCC for the autism community. The panel discussion followed, and was moderated by Chet Hurwitz, father of a twenty-four year old son on the autism spectrum. The panelists included:

Nathan Heald – All About Developmental Disabilities, Supported Employment Manager

Troy D. Keller – Atlanta Public School District, Special Education Coordinator

Eren Niederhoffer – self-advocate

Nick Perry – Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, Statewide Autism and Developmental Disabilities Coordinator

Diane Prindle – Briggs & Associates, Director of Business Development

The discussion began with the importance of transition planning, which includes “three goals – education, employment and independence, and the training needed to get there,” said Kelller. He went on to explain the community-based instruction and training for high school students, which includes support from Kroger, Publix, Petsmart, Grady Hospital Systems, Marriott, and Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation. As the discussion continued and the topic of self-advocacy was addressed, Eren Niederhoffer reminded those in attendance that one of the biggest lessons in self-advocacy is that “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Understanding that the various types of employment available can be confusing, Heald was able to explain the different types of employment and stressed that “you have to know the right terms to communicate and get the services you need” when looking for customized, competitive, or another type of employment. Perry was then able to talk about the various types of support the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency can provide during the employment process, including “discovery: a process allowing counselors to determine what a client is good at and enjoys; benefits counselors; assistive technology consultations; trainings for providers; transition services…we can do something for everyone.” And as the conversation concluded, Prindle provided advice on turning employment into a career, emphasizing the absolute importance of “forming relationships.”

As the event came to a close, attendees were directed to Autism Speaks’ new free online jobs portal – – that connects employers with job seekers with autism and other disabilities. All attendees were invited to explore, as well as the additional resources available from Autism Speaks, including the Autism Response Team.