Seventy million people - 1 percent of the world’s population - have some form of autism, a neurologic disorder that affects their ability to interact with other people and to care for themselves. Although treatment is available in developed nations, advocates say the outlook for those with severe autism is poor, and many spend their lives in sheltered environments. Those with milder forms of the disorder, however, can have more success integrating into society.
26-year-old Kevin Gibson is one of those success stories. He loves living in his own apartment. “It’s a great feeling, to like, be able to live on your own,” he said.
That is a rare accomplishment for someone with autism, a developmental disorder that can cause communication difficulties and social awkwardness.
Self-sufficient and capable
But every morning, Kevin gets dressed, prepares his lunch and walks to the law firm where he works.
“I’m a file clerk. When I have files returned to me, put it back on the shelves in numerical order.”
“He’s one of our most punctual employees. He takes a great pride in his work," said Martin Geissler, a founding partner of MG-IP, Gibson’s employer.
“We were looking for someone for our file rooms that will remain in place for several years, not have somebody there for six months. Kevin was a perfect fit. He sent out his resume. We had over 130 resume within the first 24 hours. So out of those 130 resume, we selected Kevin,” said Geissler.
Service groups provide assistance
Adults with disabilities - from autism, like Kevin, to blindness and partial paralysis - often have difficulty in the job market, but local governments and social service groups offer special services to help them find employment.
“Kevin is excellent with attention to details and organizational skills. He’s very thorough with doing whatever he’s asked to do,” said Lauren Goldschmidt, Gibson’s job coach. She works with Service Source, a local organization that matches disabled jobseekers with businesses looking for workers. She said the first step for job coaches is getting to know the individuals they are helping.
"Then we often start with situation assessments, which is an opportunity to try out different jobs to really look at what’s going to be a best fit for that person. Then we move into job development, which is actually helping someone looking for a job," said Goldschmidt. "So we do job fairs, applying on line, networking, particularly with Kevin we did a lot of mock interviews to prepare for how to answer the questions, eye contact and body language in the interview.”
Youngsters with physical and developmental disorders receive extra support in school.
Therapy and communication training
Kevin Gibson’s mother, Mary Lou Nuget, said he was in a special pre-school program that provided speech therapy, physical therapy and communication skills training.
“He would be self-contained for a part, but then mainstream him with regular students. So he had the opportunity to be around other students. In high school there was that very important program that they taught him office skills," said Nuget. "They went out and found him jobs on companies and they provided transportation to get him there, and he would work in the afternoon for two hours a week. All that experience led up to where Service Source was able then to market him and help him find a full time job.”
Kevin’s father, Fred Gibson, said he’s proud of what his son has achieved.
“The fact that he is autistic doesn’t mean that he’s not smart. He’s very smart, he’s curious and he’s interested in the world around him,” he said.
Eye on the future
Gibson said he and his son also are interested in the same hobbies.
“I grew up in Texas, so I was a Dallas Cowboys fan. At one point he decided he was going to be a Dallas Cowboys fan, too. I think in a way that was his effort to reach out and connect to me. I’ve always enjoyed airplanes and air shows, and so he likes going to airplanes and air shows,” said the elder Gibson.
Kevin’s future plans include airplanes.
“Hope when I retire, I’m going to move to Texas and open up an airplane hobby shop,” he said.
Thanks to his early diagnosis and treatment - services that are still not available in many other parts of the world - Gibson has an achievable dream.