Some families have adopted an entrepreneurial spirit in helping their children with autistic spectrum disorders find meaningful employment. According to an October 2018 Entrepreneur report, a New Jersey couple, Dr. Steven and Barbie Bier, founded Popcorn for the People, a company employing adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This includes the Biers’ son, Samuel, who was both the inspiration for the start-up and its first employee. Since its founding, Popcorn for the People has grown to include 41 employees, 28 of whom are on the autistic spectrum.
The company was created by the Biers to address the lack of meaningful employment opportunities for individuals on the autistic spectrum. Samuel himself had worked bagging groceries at a supermarket before his parents developed the idea for a business that would provide him, and others like him, with something more fulfilling and meaningful.
The Biers have discovered that many individuals with autism are highly responsible, efficient, and diligent employees.
“Very quickly, you realize that our employees tend to bring to the table the qualities of a good worker without the negatives of a bad worker,” Dr. Bier was quoted as saying in Entreprenuer. “No drinking, coming in late, smoking etc., very timely and follow directions to the T.”
In New Jersey, the state with the highest autism rate in the U.S., schools, treatment programs, advocacy organizations, and businesses have been created to provide job opportunities for people with ASD. Icare4Autism, a NYC-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of children with autism, has created an apprentice program to provide job opportunities and employment training for high school students with ASD.
The Biers believe that the school system is not adequately preparing young adults with autism for the workplace, and that employers tend to overlook individuals on the spectrum. This perception is borne out by statistics showing that 90% of U.S. adults with ASD are unemployed or underemployed. Although some companies, such as Microsoft, Chase, and JP Morgan, have been receptive to employing people with ASD, they require college attendance and advanced degrees, which many on the autistic spectrum don’t have.
Other New Jersey families have followed the Biers example. Pamela Kattouf, a resident of Maplewood and the mother of a teenage son with autism, founded Beloved Bath with her friend Patricia Miller, also the mother of an autistic teenager, as a way to provide their sons with employment. Another Maplewood resident, former lawyer Josh Zimiles, founded his own bookstore, Words, to employ his teenage son with ASD. Since the opening of Words in 2009, Zimiles has trained over 100 people with autism, according to Entrepreneur. Moish Tov, a Midland Park, NJ resident, former commander in the Israel Defense Force’s elite Special Forces, and father of two autistic children, founded JoyDew, an umbrella organization which provides job training, education, and employment for adults with ASD. Though none of these parents have any background or training in retail, they decided to take the plunge into an unknown field to benefit their children.
Tov founded JoyDew after extensive research, and touring of schools and institutions for people with autism, led him to conclude there were no programs in place to train people with non-verbal autism, such as his sons.
“They don’t believe in the kids, they don’t believe in their capabilities," Tov was quoted as saying. "In most countries, they’re not being educated, they’re being trained. Schools don’t believe in them. I was naïve enough to believe someone figured out what to do. There is no program. I have to build it.”