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N.J. helping those with autism into gainful jobs

Author: Record
Written On: Mon, 03 Nov 2008

Justin Tropinsky quietly counts "1, 2, 3," as he polishes silverware at the Hackensack Golf Club, rhythmically wiping each piece clean and earning $7.15 an hour for his efforts.

Justin Tropinsky, 20 of Tenafly, carries a new batch of silverware to clean while working at the Hackensack Country Club Tuesday. The 20 year old from Tenafly is one of a growing number of adults with autism gearing up to join the workforce. Such involvement is critical, educators and advocates say, because it allows those with autism to continue to learn and grow after age 21, when federal entitlements to school?based education and therapies
disappear.

As World Autism Awareness Day is observed today, some services are poised to expand for New Jersey adults with the neurological disorder, which impairs communication and has no established cause or cure. On Tuesday, local advocates released a new "how to" guide for businesses seeking to employ adults with autism, produced by the Alpine Learning Group, the innovative private school in Paramus for students with autism. Today, Governor Corzine will announce the members of a new task force for adults with autism.

Fast facts
* Today is the first?ever World Autism Awareness Day, established by the United Nations.
* April is national Autism Awareness Month.

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Roberts, (D)Camden, who sponsored the landmark autism legislation that established the task force and introduced other reforms, visited the Paramus school Tuesday to celebrate the new manual, which advocates called the first of its kind in the nation. "We need to create an environment that is a knowledgeable working environment," he said. "This is really important. This manual will be reassuring to lots of employers." The 22 page guide was funded by a $10,000 grant from the Ridgewood based Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation. "Our organization strongly believes that individuals with autism have the ability and the right to participate in community life, which includes gainful employment," said Linda Walder Fiddle, founder and president of the foundation's board. "If we do not support them through adulthood, individuals regress."

Employment rates for adults with developmental disabilities are historically low, with a recent census report finding the rate at 17 percent, said Leslie Long, director of public policy and systems advocacy at New Jersey COSAC, an autism advocacy group based in Trenton. She ventured that rates for individuals on the autism spectrum ?? which ranges from adults who do not speak, to college graduates who merely have trouble following social cues may be even higher, since employers value communication skills and the ability of workers to get along with one another. Many adults with the disability require extra help in the workplace, including hands-on job coaches that are funded by the state. But it makes more financial sense to provide support there rather than in adult day care or other costly social programs, she said, because employing those adults may help close gaps in the labor pool
and contribute to income taxes. "When you're talking about one out of 94 babies being born on the spectrum in New Jersey, we as a society
are going to have to include them in some contributing way," she said. "I don't know that financially we could afford particularly in New Jersey, with our budget issues to not try to engage people in the workforce."

Two Alpine group students who are employee?volunteers at Bergen Community College are a major help to Edward Pittarelli, director of technology. They will soon earn $10 an hour for their work scanning college documents, he said. "They are my best scanners," he said. "They are accurate and dedicated. The work they do is very important to us." For Tropinsky, who dons a maroon uniform shirt for his two hour?long shifts at the golf club in Oradell each week, being included in the workplace is "an unexpected dream come true," said his mother, Madeline, of Tenafly. It has taken a great deal of training and support to achieve that dream. Tropinsky follows an instruction book of pictures prepared by Alpine staff. A school instructor shadows him and wears a timer, awarding him tokens for each 5 minutes of uninterrupted work. The efforts are well worth it, said the club's general manager Norman Forsyth. "He accomplishes a task," he said. "And the staff enjoy having Justin here. They know he's trying as hard as he can, to do the best that he can."