CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - Government data shows autism is more prevalent than ever before with one in every 68 American children with the developmental disorder. There are also half a million diagnosed individuals entering into adulthood over the next decade. While the job market may seem tough for a lot of people, research shows it's an even bigger challenge for people with autism.
UTC is one of only a few dozen colleges nation-wide that offers a support service for students on the autism spectrum. It's called MoSAIC and it's attracting people from all over.
Getting a degree is a huge accomplishment, but what happens after graduation is the next hurdle. Only a handful of local employers are seeking people with autism specifically for their unique intellectual abilities.
"We may be different than a lot of other people in societybut that does not make us any less valuable than anybody else," Scott Kramer said.
47-year-old Scott Kramer walks across the UTC campus with his head held high. As someone on the autism spectrum, he's overcome a lot to get here. The Indiana native came to UTC with two degrees already under his belt and still no career.
"For one reason or another things just didn't work out because of things related to my autistic condition," he said.
This time around things are different. Sitting among a sea of graduates, he's relieved to know he's got a position waiting on him.
The staff with UTC's MoSAIC program helped him work out the kinks in his interview skills and land multiple job offers for accounting positions.
"I think we as a society haven't given them a chance or have put up barriers that have been challenging to overcome," MoSAIC Program Coordinator Amy Rutherford said.
National data shows more than half of people with autism are unemployed or under-employed, which means not working to their full abilities. UTC's Dr. Michelle Rigler says a big reason is the misconceptions employers get when they speak with them, since their communication can be a little different.
"It's hard to look past the idea that somebody has autism when they come into an interview and they can't look somebody in the eye," MoSAIC Director Dr. Michelle Rigler said.
She hopes employers can start looking past those quirks and realize what skills they have that surpass many others, like their logical thinking, efficiency and dedication to getting the job done right.
One local employer taking notice is Unum.
"The individuals with autism have a higher than normal ability to process large amounts of data," Unum Director of Testing Center of Excellence Sandra Mansfield said.
The company has started up a new partnership with UTC's MoSAIC program hiring qualified students for paid internships with the potential for full-time employment.
"I think it's really important that we look at individuals and at their abilities rather than focusing on the things they can't do," Mansfield said.
Scott Kramer hopes more companies start operating that way so it doesn't take others as long as it took him to get a career going. And he hopes his story of determination offers hope.
"As you look at your children who have autism or disorders, I want you to look at somebody like myself, who's about to go through with graduation and into the future. If I can do this, know your children can do this too," Kramer said.
In a few weeks, Scott Kramer starts working at the Life Care Centers in Cleveland and Unum's first paid interns with autism will start, too.
UTC's MoSAIC program has been chosen to publish its freshman handbook that helps people with autism make their college and career game plan. It will be available in the U.S. in January.