Diversity Woman Magazine

SUM 2017

Leadership and Executive Development for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds

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34 D I V E R S I T Y W O M A N S u m m e r 2 0 1 7 d i v e r s i t y w o m a n . c o m Her interest in autism is personal. Peete and her husband, Rodney, have four children. eir oldest son, Rodney Junior, born in 1997, was diagnosed with autism when he was three. "at diagnosis changed everything in our lives," she says. "For anyone who gets an autism diagnosis, it's a punch in the gut, especially if you get the diagnosis when we did. It wasn't until about the year 2000 that autism awareness began rising. Today there are many more groups and resources that support parents and families." Peete describes parents with autistic children as a special breed. "We are very cut to the chase. We have to fight for our children. It has definitely been an interesting journey, what I call the autism express." O nly in the last genera- tion have substantial resources and fund- ing been devoted to services for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Much of that attention has been focused on children and basic education. Much less attention has been paid on helping people with ASD enter the workforce and succeed. Unem- ployment rate estimates range from 35 percent to 55 percent for young people on the spectrum. As thou- sands with ASD graduate from high school and college each year and start looking for a job, most are not ready for the workplace, says Dr. Pamela Hubbard-Wiley, president of the Los Angeles Speech and Language Therapy Center. Hubbard-Wiley has worked with Holly Robinson Peete's son Rodney Jr. since he was a young child. These young people require specialized training to be prepared for the workforce. Employers need to be educated as well, so they can offer this population jobs that at the same time support the company's needs. "When it comes to autism and the workplace, there is still not a lot being done," says Hubbard-Wiley. "The workforce is not ready for them, and they are not ready for the workforce either." Those on the autism spectrum generally don't have the social skills to function effectively in the workplace, says Hubbard-Wiley. Therefore, a few years ago, the Los Angeles Speech and Language Therapy Center launched a pro- gram to ready those with ASD for the workforce. The program teaches the students social interac- tion skills and works to develop relationships with corporations. Other nonprofits are beginning to address this issue. For example, Holly Robinson Peete's HollyRod Foundation focuses on workplace development for those with ASD by supporting organizations that offer prevocational training. "The cool, exciting thing is that so many corporations are finally starting to hire young people on the spectrum now," says Peete. "They're recognizing they have really unique skills, and they can often be your best and most dedi- cated worker." Autism: Overcoming barriers in the workplace OPEN > SESAME Peete's commitment to improving the lives of children and families affected by autism has intersected with her racial identity and commitment to social justice. Police profiling of young African American males upsets her. And African Ameri- can males on the autism spectrum are profiled at an even high- er rate, she says. "In my life experience, I've learned it's very important for the police to understand a given community," she says. "And families with autism form a community. ere recently was a case in North Miami where a young man was shot. He was a behavioral therapist who had been trying to help his patient with autism, who was in distress. Now if those cops had more autism training and understood that community, instead of

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