I came to CAI from a career in quality assurance, and my third assignment at the company was with the Autism2Work (A2W) program, which had recently started as an engagement with the state of Delaware providing individuals on the autism spectrum with meaningful work.
Whatever you give me to do, I accept it and embrace it wholeheartedly. So, when I was entrusted to lead an A2W team, I went to the client site ahead of time to understand the environment and the scope of work. I remembered all the times work was thrown over the fence at me and I had to figure out the answers. I didn’t want that to happen to my team members. I felt really strongly about putting in the right structures to make sure the team and the client were successful.
When the team members came out of the A2W job readiness training, they were very eager to take advantage of the opportunity to work. In the first 40 days in the client environment, we had unbelievable success. We showed the client the performance metrics for the team’s first six months, and the client couldn’t believe it. They elected to turn what was just a pilot program into a full-blown program.
As we expanded, I went from an A2W Team Lead to the Program Manager. Today I handle all operations for A2W: placement, onboarding, ongoing support for the client and the whole project team. My goal is always to put the right candidate in the right role, in the right environment.
This is one of the things that makes Autism2Work different from other employment programs. We customize the relationship to support both the team members and the client. We work closely with a client to make sure they understand how to build trust and interact with our team members – this way, everyone succeeds. We have spent a lot of time figuring out what works, and it’s our job to eliminate the risk for everyone involved. I'm proud to say that every team we’ve ever placed has been successful.
More and more organizations are aware of the benefits of cognitive diversity, but I get to see it every day. For one client, the A2W team exceeded in the first month the service level agreement the client expected to see in the third month. The client had to reexamine its idea of productivity and raise the bar for other employee teams. For a healthcare client, the A2W access management team handles 30 percent of the volume of work despite the fact that the team makes up just a small fraction of the overall access management division.
What I see with the A2W associates is honesty, a strong desire to please, and dedication to take advantage of an opportunity presented to them. Many individuals on the spectrum don’t realize how competitive they are in terms of productivity. Once I was sitting with an A2W associate, he was a very quiet guy – but very capable. He had earned a mechanical engineering degree but had a difficult time finding a job. He said to me, “Wayne, six months ago, I was sitting on my mom’s couch not knowing if I’d ever find a job. My phone almost never rang in response to an application or resume submitted; now I'm working as a full-time software engineer for a major bank. I can’t believe how far I’ve come.”
It makes me proud to be able to positively impact the lives of others – and to see that impact. To watch someone’s confidence develop as the trust level grows, as their capabilities increase, and they can see their progress – that is something I cannot express in words.