Autism is a word that has been around for a relatively short time in our history, but one that we’ve become more familiar with in recent decades. You’ve probably heard the statistics: it is the fastest growing developmental disability, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is more commonly diagnosed in boys than girls.
But the statistics surrounding adults on the spectrum are even grimmer. In most cases, the services provided to children on the spectrum end once the individual turns 18. After that, sadly, the vast majority of young adults fall through the cracks once they leave high school. Sure, there are plenty of individuals with the skills and the means to go on to post-secondary schooling, but what about their peers who are unable to do so, for one reason or another? The data shows that those young adults become the majority: part of the 90% of young adults with autism that are either unemployed or underemployed.
While we’ve come a long way as a society from the days of institutionalization, there is still a large misunderstanding of autism and what people living with ASD can and cannot do. An individual with autism could be the most intelligent person you’ve ever met, but their struggle with communication and reading social cues would make a successful interview nearly impossible, and you might find them working a minimum wage job. The stigma surrounding this diagnosis is still very real.
This is where we come in: Make I.T. SOAR is an initiative aimed at combating this stigma by employing high-functioning individuals with autism within the Information Technology industry. Many individuals on the spectrum have a natural affinity for technology and the ability to pay close attention to detail, making them a perfect fit for I.T. positions. Not only does this give them a sense of purpose to be doing meaningful work, but it also gives them daily opportunities for social interactions, which is something most individuals on the spectrum struggle with.
Many companies, such as Microsoft and SAP, have also embraced this movement of “neurodiversity” by implementing their own unique autism hiring initiatives. This was done not to combat autistic unemployment, but because they noticed that adults with autism can be exceptional employees and drive innovation when provided the right structure, mentorship, and on-boarding.
“Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome,” John Elder Robison, a scholar in residence and a cochair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William & Mary.
Based out of Appleton, Wisconsin, Make I.T. SOAR is an offshoot of parent organization SOAR Fox Cities, Inc., formerly The Arc Fox Cities, Inc. The idea for this up and coming business was born in the Fall of 2015, when the then-Director of SOAR Fox Cities, Inc. saw a great need for meaningful employment for this community of individuals. She recognized the skills possessed by this population and noticed how they aligned with those necessary to thrive in the I.T. field. Cut to the Summer of 2016, and Make I.T. SOAR was up and running, complete with a Program Director, an Autism Specialist, and five eager Technicians. Unforeseen changes came shortly thereafter, bringing in an entirely new team of managers.
This transition period was not easy, but it lead us in a new direction into the growing area of Cybersecurity, or ethical hacking, where we focus on web-application vulnerability and penetration testing solutions for companies of all sizes.
“Cybersecurity Ventures predicts there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021, up from 1 million openings in 2014.” The tech industry will be searching for new solutions to fill the increasing labor shortage of cybersecurity professionals.
Currently, Make I.T. SOAR is made up of seven team members, with plans to expand in the coming year. Some neat details about the team: two team members met on site, fell in love, and got married in August of 2017. They have all taken on roles for which they were not originally hired for, but have developed strengths in. Make I.T. SOAR was recognized by the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce with the Small Business Company Innovation Award in 2017. The mission of empowering people with differing abilities is in full swing and growing every day.
If you’re interested in learning more about Make I.T. SOAR and how you can help their mission, visit makeitsoar.com. Be sure to keep up with the team on social media (@makeitsoar) as well.