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Monday, August 11, 2014 - New collaboration creating small businesses to employ adults with autism
This initiative is based on the fundamental principles of “Extraordinary Ventures,” a project formulated in North Carolina that seeks to employ young men and women with autism and other developmental disabilities by creating self-sustaining small businesses that are designed around their skills. Photo credit: Extraordinary Ventures
Four prestigious organizations are collaborating to develop new small-businesses in Oakland County. This initiative will help address Michigan’s employment shortcomings for adults with autism.

Calling on the combined expertise of Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM), Judson Center and Oakland University, with support from Smiles for Children, these groups provide more than 75 years of addressing autism awareness and education in the state.

 Oakland’s business accelerator, OU INC, has allocated space for the small business venture, where employees will be paid, trained and offered a job coach.

“With 90 percent of adults with autism unemployed or underemployed, taking this bold move is critical to giving these individuals a real purpose and better quality of life,” said President and CEO of AAoM Colleen Allen. “By entering into this collaboration with one of Michigan’s leading universities in the study of autism along with Judson Center’s long history of working with individuals with disabilities, we have the perfect formula for success. “

Each business will integrate students from OU’s School of Business Administration to serve as mentors. These students will be given the opportunity to apply their classroom learning to the real world application of running a small business. It will also provide a valuable perspective on working with and understanding individuals on the autism spectrum. In addition, autism faculty experts and students from the University’s School of Education and Human Services will ensure that appropriate communication processes and other social integration accommodations are in place to assist the employees as they navigate their new jobs.

“There are thousands of students on the autism spectrum transitioning from the public school system to adulthood each year,” said Jim Lentini, OU’s senior vice president and provost for academic affairs. “Providing a roadmap for employment for these individuals is consistent with the University’s tradition of serving the needs of the entire community.”

Judson Center’s decades of expertise will aid in designing customized employment opportunities for adults with special needs to employers throughout the Southeast Michigan area.

“We are excited to be launching this partnership with the Autism Alliance of Michigan and Oakland University to offer adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder the opportunity to work in a setting with their peers in a true business initiative,” said Judson Center’s President and CEO Cameron Hosner. “This collaboration will make possible meaningful employment opportunities, the dignity of work and inclusion in the community for a group of citizens that is greatly underemployed.

The first business due to begin this summer is a pick-up, clean, fold and delivery laundry business. “I met with a former colleague of mine who runs an advertising agency and told her what we were up to and she called me a few days later and said she had 10 to 15 people ready to hand their laundry over to this micro-business today,” said Pat Kemp, who will serve as the executive director of the initiative. “It is very exciting to see the support from the surrounding business community behind this effort.”