A2W helps Josh apply his gifts to a new job in IT

After working for more than ten years in behavioral health rehabilitation, Josh was ready for something new. Seven of those years, he spent working one-on-one with children, helping them and their families cope with the daily struggles of life at school and home that come with certain mental health challenges. For Josh’s patients, even the most minor changes in routine could cause debilitating anxiety or frustration.

Some of the children Josh worked with were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Josh couldn’t help but feel a certain kinship to them – to their struggles with social interaction, their difficulty reading social cues, or communicating easily. After all, his own struggles growing up were what spurred him toward a career in mental health in the first place. In the midst of his career in mental health, he decided to get tested and was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

So, when Josh decided to leave the mental health field to look for a new career, he entered the word autism into the online job search engine, thinking of it as a population with which he was qualified to work. “I have a professional perspective and a personal perspective on ASD,” says Josh. “That’s a strength of mine I want to put to use.” But instead of finding work with individuals diagnosed with ASD, he found CAI’s Autism2Work (A2W) program. A2W was recruiting individuals diagnosed with ASD for job opportunities in the area, and Josh was immediately interested. When he reached out, he was invited to attend the upcoming Job Readiness Training (JRT).

Until that point, Josh had avoided job interviews with people he didn’t know. It was too nerve-wracking, he says. He also typically limited his job search based on his interpretation of the qualifications, sometimes taking them too literally. If he didn’t meet all the qualifications in the job description to the letter, he wouldn’t even apply.

Josh had studied computer science in college, so the A2W posting for a quality assurance testing position caught his eye. “The JRT was really valuable for me. It allowed me to ask questions and interact with management prior to employment. It also helped me understand how things are done in office environments that are different than the field mental health work I was doing. Understanding expectations is very helpful for me.”

Growing up, Josh thrived in activities that were well-defined with clear rules, like academics and baseball. And he always had a special gift for focusing and knowing how to prioritize tasks. But social interactions were a struggle, and, as he got into high school, where he felt social interaction was just for interaction’s sake, understanding norms and managing expectations became increasingly difficult. “Many people didn’t understand why I couldn’t maintain eye contact, for example, interpreting it as a lack of manners,” says Josh. “I had a lot of stomach aches during those years.”

After completing the JRT, Josh was offered a job as part of team performing Quality Assurance testing for a large pharmaceutical firm. The team automates test scripts so the company’s enterprise resource planning application and ancillary systems are more efficient. The scripts allow company employees to make a sales document or run a report for a different country without having to run it manually and without errors.

The A2W team Josh works with has two team leads who both think highly of him. “Josh’s demeanor is reassuring and calm, even when the pressure is on,” says his A2W Team Lead Rory O’Brien. “He’s able to keep focus on the task at hand while effectively communicating to those around him – and he’s a real grounding force for the team, always happy to work on whatever the priority may be and switch gears when needed.”

“Josh has a very practical approach to work,” says Jim Esbensen, A2W Team Lead. “You can give Josh an assignment and let him go and it will get done. I appreciate the focus, dedication, and loyalty he brings, but perhaps the biggest gift Josh brings is how flexible and adaptable he is.”

For Josh, the support structure of A2W is an important part of his success. “A2W made it easy for me to transition to a new career in the field of IT,” says Josh. “I have a team who helps me understand clear expectations for the week, which is important to me. When my team leads check in about my stress level, I tell them nothing compares to working in behavioral health rehabilitation every day. For me, that is the best part. The work strikes a perfect balance between being intellectually challenging without being stressful.”