Roanoke program trains teens with Autism for jobs later in life

Roanoke program trains teens with Autism for jobs later in life (Image 1)
Roanoke program trains teens with Autism for jobs later in life (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - You may be seeing a lot more blue as people are celebrating Autism awareness month.

Autism Speaks says ten years ago one in 166 were diagnosed with Autism. That number has now grown to one in 68.

The organization says Autism can be reliably diagnosed by the age of two and early intervention can change brain development and activity.     

The Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center started in 2002 providing education and support for children and their families.

"They're normal type of people and they're special type of people. They can only do a certain type of stuff that most people can't," said Brian Groah, a 17-year old with autism.

Groah spends one day a week folding boxes and wiping down tables along with other teens.

"It's fun, it's fun," said 15-year old Alan Stacey who looks forward to weekly his shift at CiCi's Pizza. "It helps me learn how to work. When I turned 16 I want to work here and get money."

Stacey also has Autism and is part of the Stars program at the Blue Ridge Autistic and Achievement Center. They notice as autistic kids were aging they needed more specialized training. The program gives teens real world experience and on the job training.

"Our goal with a program like this is just to show our community how capable our students are," said Bethany Mazurek, the special education coordinator. "There's no reason they shouldn't be out and shouldn't be productive members within our community."

Some go on to get a job at the chain.

"It's my happiest time of the week," said Mike Garst, Cici's Pizza General Manager. "We really are looking for them to be able to go out and feel like they are a contributing part of society because they are. It's great."

CiCi's Pizza isn't the only place the students work. Some work at a nail salon or the YMCA folding towels. The idea is getting real on-the-job training they can carry with them in life.

"It's helping me a lot at home. Helping me keep calm. I'm doing better at school and at home I have my anger down," said Stacey.

At the end of the shift the teens are paid in pizza and celebrate hard work with smiles all around.