E-KAAMP: Job Opportunities for Special Needs Community
By Dianne Anderson
Getting through the interview jitters, and knowing how to act impressive is hard enough for the average jobseeker, let alone someone with special needs.
Tenika Doyle, whose son was diagnosed with autism at 7 years old and is now 16, is working with special needs youth and adults around self-sufficiency, safe relationships, accessing public transportation, and other skills to navigate life.
Her upcoming employment conference is helping those with special needs become as independent as possible. It starts with the first responsibility of landing the job – showing up on time.
“We help them get employment and live out their purpose in their community, whether they want to volunteer or do a vocational program go to school or find employment. That’s what the conference is about,” said Doyle founder and president of the nonprofit Chasing 7 Dreams.
Doyle started her nonprofit as a summer camp, which serves kids with special needs from age 7 to 17. Because it was successful, they expanded it a step further with their employment conference to guide hopeful workers from age 17 to 40 years.
Knowing the basics of safe relationships and socially acceptable behavior are two major obstacles for special needs or autistic workers.
“A lot of individuals with special needs are touchy-feely, you can’t be touching someone at work, which could lead to sexual harassment. We want them to understand that because your supervisor is nice to you doesn’t mean she likes you like a girlfriend,” Doyle said.
Also at the event, she will meet with a representative from the Ontario Police Department to discuss safe ways to respond when police are called out into the community or public transportation on a special needs call. She believes the community and police can learn from each other.
Special needs youth or adults can find it hard, if not impossible, to quickly follow commands.
“I like to have the police come out so they can learn about individuals with special needs. A lot of them don’t like to be detained, or hand touched,” she said. “So much has happened in the world and I don’t want this to happen here with the police. They are to be a form of protection in the community.”
Doyle’s community partner, Behavioral Genius, is co-hosting the event at their facility, and will speak about on-the-job behavior. The nonprofit works with special needs, including autistic adults, with several therapists available through their programs.
Doyle held an in-person conference last February at the Inland Regional Center, featuring several vendors. Since then, they have held Zoom events, but she said most people are all Zoomed out.
At her employment conference, participants will polish their resumes and applications throughout the weekend. She said it’s important to bring employment resources to them within their comfort zone.
“An individual with special needs can’t go to a hotel with 300 people and compete. I want to bring it to them so they’re comfortable in their own environment, and it’s easier for them to focus on a successful interview,” she said.
Many with autism are on the spectrum, highly intelligent, but they lack some social skills. Some individuals may not like noise or dealing with a crowd.
“A position for them means they need to be off to themselves. It really depends on the individual,” she said.
She is taking all safety precautions and masks, and temperature checks at the events. To prepare, they will host mock interviews. The following week, she will host a job fair with employers coming out to interview and provide feedback, which is important for job seekers to overcome their weaknesses.
In a couple of months, she plans to work with them until they are ready to compete again. All employers are aware that the employees have special needs, and she also informs them about their special strengths.
Originally, the program served mainly autistic children, but with the growing need, they now serve Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and have opened up services to all special needs.
She feels now is a great time to get hired.
“Right now with the economy everywhere you go, everybody is hiring. I feel like my participants have a higher chance of landing employment because there is a need,” she said.
Portia James, Founder and CEO of Behavior Genius, said her organization is excited to be working together in partnership with Chasing 7 Dreams.
“Behavior Genius truly believes in the empowerment of our communities and in the power of our organization to shape a better future for ourselves, and for the families that we serve,” said James, a mentor and board-certified behavior analyst. “We seize every opportunity possible to give back as a team because we know that everything that we do makes a difference.”
The event will be held Friday, November 5 from 5-8:00 p.m., on Saturday, November 6 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and on Sunday, November 7, from 10:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. Registration is $25 with refreshments and snacks provided.
To RSVP, see http://www.chasing7dreams.org/ or call (877) 774-7978
For information on Behavior Genius, see www.behaviorgenius.com