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Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Offers Gift Giving Guide for the Holiday Season

By Autism, Holidays, News, Parenting, Press Release No Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma

November 22, 2022

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Offers Gift Giving Guide for the Holiday Season

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) has partnered with local retailers to offer holiday gift suggestions for those with loved ones that have autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

From toddlers to teenagers, AFO’s first-ever gift-giving guide includes sensory-friendly and educational items available at Oklahoma City retailers The Learning Tree and Blue7. The guide also provides information about the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Cowboy Kids Club. The museum recently became the first certified autism center in Oklahoma through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), a certification AFO also recently received.

Emily Hayes, Early Childhood Project Coordinator of the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma, comments, “Finding the perfect gift for loved ones can be challenging. Here at the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma, we want to help support and guide families to find gifts that can be both functional and fun. The items in our gift guide can help promote motor skills, sensory integration skills, social skills, language skills, and daily living skills while also being a fun, innovative item for the gift receiver.

The guide’s categories include sensory-friendly items, gifts to encourage movement, cognitive stimulation, and daily living support. Specialists specifically selected gifts found in this guide to promote unique skills. Depending upon age, gifts might emphasize sensory integration exploration, gross motor development, teaching cause and effect, hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, strengthening fine motor skills, tactile exploration and support of speech, color recognition, math, and language activities.

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About Autism Foundation of Oklahoma

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Oklahomans with autism and their families. AFO’s programs provide education, advocacy, professional development, and individual and family support across the lifespan.

Media Contact

Emily Hayes, Project Coordinator

ehayes@autismfoundationok.org / (918)527-7722

PRINT THE GUIDE HERE

Disclosure Paradox

By Autism, Research No Comments

A common struggle that Autistic individuals face when applying for jobs and even within jobs is the decision to disclose their disability to hiring managers or supervisors. On the surface, it may seem obvious to disclose a disability because there are protections in place that allow for accommodations to be granted to those that want them. Underneath, however, harbors a psychological struggle that can make it difficult to decide whether or not to disclose. This struggle is what I call the Disclosure Paradox because it suggests that internal and external factors can mar a seemingly beneficial decision.

To better grasp the concept, it is important to define what stigma is before examining its complexity. Merriam-Webster defines stigma as a mark of shame or an identifying characteristic (Merriam-Webster, 2022). With this in mind, we can begin to see the underlying notions present when speaking about disabilities or Autism. In fact, the definition can apply to a wide array of things but can be harmful because of its attribution to Autistic individuals. Taken together, the stigma of Autism that is commonly assumed is that Autistic individuals have a mark of shame or identifying characteristic that makes them different from others. This attribution pours into both self-perception and what others perceive, which adds to the self-fulfilling prophecy that Autistic individuals do not live up to society’s expectations.

Speaking of expectations, it is essential to notice that the issue presented thus far is psychological and affects both the Autistic individual and other people, commonly interviewers. Namely, there are underlying assumptions made by recruiters that picture Autistic individuals as either incompetent or savants (Rosa, 2018). For example, media portrayals and stereotypical assumptions paint Autistic individuals as either needing too much support or nearly perfect for not a lack of social skills. As a result, these unrealistic expectations make it difficult for Autistic individuals to be authentic because they fear they may be unfairly treated or held to impossible standards.

Delving deeper, stigma is rooted in stereotypes which are collective opinions about groups of people and can lead to prejudice and discrimination if accepted and manifest in negative emotional reactions or actions (Mayer et al., 2021). As a result, Autistic individuals struggle with disclosing their disability because they do not want adverse treatment and unrealistic expectations thrust upon them. Collectively, this psychological battle being waged is indeed fought by Autistic individuals and can create battle wounds such as negative self-esteem and self-stigma. This more extreme version of stigma is personal and can cause lower self-efficacy and self-respect, resulting in hopelessness and decreased help-seeking (Mayer et al., 2021).

With this said, it makes the decision to disclose difficult because of competing interests that lead to varying outcomes. On the one hand, disclosing could affect social interactions, belonging, and psychological well-being if negatively received (Mayer et al., 2021). On the other hand, non-disclosure can seemingly protect from stigma but makes it more difficult to find support and lead to greater burdens to carry (Mayer et al., 2021). Once again, the disclosure paradox rears its head and shows the fears associated with disclosure. In fact, the main issue seems to stem from the uncertainty that accompanies it and how it will be received.

I understand the struggles of disclosure and have encountered the same hypotheticals that have kept me from disclosing and receiving the help I could have gotten if not for the uncertainties. However, there should be no uncertainty, and businesses need to accept that everyone is unique and has unique needs. There is no reason why protected classes need to feel that they will be adversely affected by disclosing, and it is something that needs to be addressed. The way forward involves reconfiguring workplace culture so that disclosure is another benefit of the workplace instead of a detriment that should be suppressed and ignored.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing a MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

Sources

Mayer, L., Corrigan, W. P., Elsheuer, D., Oexle, N., Rüsch, N., (2021). Attitudes towards disclosing a mental illness: impact on quality of life and recovery. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-021-02081-1

Merrium-Webster (2022). Definition of Stigma. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stigma

Rosa (2018). Why is the Autistic unemployment rate so high? https://thinkingautismguide.com/2018/02/why-is-autistic-unemployment-rate-so.html

 

Acceptance Paradox

By Autism, Research No Comments

The Paradoxes of High Autistic Unemployment SeriesPart 3

As has been discussed in earlier parts, many factors are seemingly contributing to the high unemployment rate for Autistic individuals. Unfortunately, more factors should be addressed to better understand the issue at hand. Namely, acceptance and belonging are important results to strive for when constructing any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) effort. The reason is that people want to feel that their organization cares for them on a human level instead of being another statistic on a spreadsheet and/or expendable. In fact, research showed that employees that experienced belonging had increased performance by 56%, while those that felt excluded suffered from a 25% decline in performance (Kaldy, 2019). However, many Autistic individuals may feel that they do not belong in their organization because there are barriers impeding authenticity.

Accordingly, I poised another paradox that could contribute to high unemployment among Autistic individuals: the Acceptance paradox. Notably, it suggests that despite the good intentions of organizations to build DEI efforts to help employees feel acceptance and belonging, it instead builds conformity. One example is the commonly used “business case for diversity” that may have good intentions on the surface but underneath harbors unconscious discrimination. For example, the business case for diversity seeks to justify diversity by suggesting that it ultimately will benefit the bottom line of an organization (Georgeac & Rattan, 2022). While on the surface, it may appear harmless and essential for organizations to benefit from the hard work of others but notice that it is focused solely on the company. Indeed, it views diversity as a business asset and something to take advantage of instead of a moral necessity to help employees feel they belong (Georgeac & Rattan, 2022).

With this said, diversity should not be a bargaining chip but the natural outgrowth of the protections of protected classes and civil rights. In fact, as discussed in part 1, employers cannot discriminate based on protected classes, but the business case for diversity implies that they can deny them if they do not help the company’s bottom line. The reality is that candidates are to be judged on whether they can perform the job and will help the bottom line, but it has nothing to do with the characteristics of protected classes.

In effect, Autistic individuals are disproportionally affected because they seemingly do not meet the “business needs” on the surface because of their behaviors in interviews and lack of experience. For instance, some ways that recruiters gauge a candidate’s ability are previous performance and/or how they present themselves and their skills in an interview. However, as discussed in both parts 1 and 2, Autistic individuals naturally have difficulty in these areas and, unfortunately, get overlooked when they do not meet expectations. However, employers can benefit from hiring Autistic individuals because of their transferable abilities and interest. For example, Autistic individuals possess the focus, commitment, intense passion, and creative ideas that would make anyone qualified for a position for not of lack of understanding (IBCCES, 2015).

Overall, the goal of DEI efforts should be to allow employees to display their authenticity instead of trying to conform to expectations and building a culture of acceptance and belonging. To accomplish this, I have laid out several factors that seem to contribute to the high unemployment rate for Autistic individuals through many parts. From hiring bias, inflated qualification expectations to the business case for diversity, all show a need to shift the fundamental understanding of hiring Autistic individuals. For too long, recruiters have lumped Autistic individuals with Neurotypicals and applied the same expectations to them, but it has shown to be just as discriminatory as separating them. Therefore, the business case for diversity should not be used as a persuasive argument for hiring but as the expectation of hiring diverse individuals.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing a MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

Sources

Georgeac, O., & Rattan, A. (2022). Stop Making the Business Case for Diversity. https://hbr.org/2022/06/stop-making-the-business-case-for-diversity

International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (2015). Benefits of Hiring People with Autism. https://ibcces.org/blog/2015/07/08/benefits-of-hiring-people-with-autism/

Kaldy, J. (2019). The Benefits of Belonging. https://infrontworkforce.com/the-benefits-of-belonging

 

Most Qualified Paradox

By Autism, Research No Comments

The Paradoxes of High Autistic Unemployment SeriesPart 2

To further the discussion of the Autistic Unemployment paradox, it important to delve deeper into why there is a high unemployment rate for Autistic individuals. As discussed in Part 1, there are unconscious barriers that recruiters need to keep in mind when seeking to hire Autistic individuals. However, in this part, I want to explore the external factors that can also be playing a major role in the high unemployment rate. In fact, in 2021, nearly 50% of Autistic 25-year-olds never had a paying job, despite possessing the necessary skill sets and expertise to offer (Palumbo, 2021). With this in mind, I suggest another paradox that is also impeding progress towards inclusion, and I offer some personal reflections.

Namely, there seems to be a paradox with recruiting for the most qualified candidates because recruiters seem to overlook and/or favor various qualifying markers in their hiring decisions. In fact, a core tenet of recruiting is creating a wide pool of qualified candidates and choosing the most qualified among them (TalenTeam, 2022). The key word to recognize is the word “qualified” which is vague and can have different interpretations depending on the context. Recruiters often use the term to identify a specific and objective marker of performance that can be used to distinguish between many candidates. In other words, there may be many candidates that are equally “qualified” for a position, but the trouble arises when you have to choose one of them.

In order to narrow down the pool of candidates, recruiters can utilize some universal applications of the most qualified term to find the one(s) most suitable for the position. Unfortunately, finding the “most qualified” can point to the underlying flaw of the term because it can present discrepancies in who to hire. Notably, a common marker that is used is job experience because it can provide insight into how a candidate responded to issues before, or accomplished something relevant to the current position (Orion Talent, 2021). However, as noted earlier, many Autistic individuals have not had a job before, which puts them at a disadvantage over others who do have job experience. In other words, there is great discussion about overqualified candidates, but scarcely about “underqualified”.

As a result, Autistic individuals are not able to show their potential and ability because they were not given a chance to show it. In effect, it may be more fruitful to hire for potential rather than hiring for experience. Hiring for potential entails recognizing that the candidate may not meet all of the listed job expectations but has the potential to grow and learn in the position (Orion Talent, 2021). Candidates that have potential can often outperform their peers who have more experience because they want to prove themselves and will be grateful for the opportunity. In effect, that can lead to greater work outcomes, increased belonging and loyalty to the organization. A good place to start is offering more opportunities for potential in entry level positions where the demands of the job are not as stringent and provides a foothold into the organization.

Overall, I have been on both sides of the interviewing table by interviewing candidates and being interviewed. I understand that every job position is unique and may need work experience depending on the demands of the job and work contexts. However, I have also seen positions that can be trained and developed and do not need previous experience to be successful. In addition, I have seen job descriptions with too high expectations and thus excluding those that could have potential but do not even attempt to apply. The issue of high expectations for entry-level jobs is an important factor to consider when contemplating high Autistic unemployment. The reason is that the primary way into organizations appears to have a barrier into entry that adds to the already difficult pursuit for Autistic individuals.

 

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

 

Sources:

OrionTalent (2021). Hiring for experience vs Potential. https://www.oriontalent.com/recruiting-resources/blog/453/hiring-experience-vs-potential/

Palumbo, J. (2021). Why Autism Speaks is encouraging companies to hire those on the Autistic Spectrum. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferpalumbo/2021/04/27/why-autism-speaks-is-encouraging-companies-to-hire-those-on-the-autistic-spectrum/?sh=4dcdd9ff52a2

TalenTeam (2022). The purpose and importance of Recruitment. https://talenteam.com/blog/purpose-importance-of-recruitment/

Autistic Unemployment Paradox

By Autism, News, Research 2 Comments

The Paradoxes of High Autistic Unemployment Series⎯Part 1

There seems to be a paradox with Autistic unemployment because it should not be as big a problem in reality. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a paradox is a statement that seems contradictory but contains hidden truth (Merriam-Webster, 2022). Indeed, there are supposed safeguards in place to ensure that Autistic individuals are not discriminated against yet still face it. Autism Unemployment was approximately 85% in 2021, and research shows that Autistic individuals face higher unemployment rates and social isolation than other disabilities (Palumbo, 2021). The discrimination can largely be found unconsciously, which makes it more difficult to identify and prove its existence. However, there are several barriers that Autistic people face when interviewing for a job that affects both the interviewer and interviewee. In this post, I will offer some reasons why there is such a high unemployment rate for Autistic individuals and offer my personal reflections.

To better grasp this paradox, it is important to recognize its origin and the flaws in its implementation. Notably, Autistic individuals qualify to be included as a protected class under the classification of physical or mental disability and are therefore protected from employment discrimination (Longley, 2022). Important to note is that disability is not meant to be a negative connotation but a means of identification for legal purposes to offer services and protections. Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a disability as a condition that impacts or limits a person’s ability to perform tasks or engage in activities (Merriam-Webster, 2022). With this in mind, Autism does affect or limit a person’s ability to engage in activities or perform tasks, namely interviewing. The reason is that Autism primarily impacts social skills, communication, and self-regulation, which can bring adverse reactions in an interview setting where the expectation is, unfortunately social.

Speaking of interviews, recruiters are not exempted from criticism because they also possess barriers that can make it more difficult to hire Autistic individuals. Namely, there are two hiring biases that recruiters can encounter: the horn effect and similarity attraction bias. First, the horn effect occurs when a recruiter makes a judgment about a candidate over a negative characteristic that clouds their assessment of them (Alexandra, 2020). In other words, a recruiter can unfairly assess an Autistic person’s ability to perform the job over “negative characteristics” they spot in an interview. Second, the similarity attraction bias occurs when a recruiter favors a candidate that appears to be similar to them and others in characteristics (Alexandra, 2020). In other words, the recruiter could discount an Autistic individual for a job because they do not meet the “prerequisite social conditions” that other candidates can meet. With this said, both types of hiring bias could be impeding Autistic individuals because they do not appear to be the “idealized candidate” and are discarded. However, notice that none of these “reasons” for discarding Autistic individuals have anything to do with them having the ability to perform the job and thus is unconscious discrimination.

Overall, I have personally encountered and seen other recruiters succumb to these types of hiring biases, and the worst part is that there are more biases that further impede progress towards inclusion. For example, I recall fellow recruiters mentioning more about a candidate’s personal and social characteristics rather than their ability to help the company grow and thrive. As a result, these subjective measurements are not helping the company onboard a diverse portfolio of candidates when they recruit others like them or those who “fit in”. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the types of hiring biases and ensure that they are not being deployed unconsciously, and remember that the purpose of inclusion is not conformity.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

Sources

Alexandra (2021). 13 Common Hiring Biases To Watch Out For. https://harver.com/blog/hiring-biases/

Longely, R (2022). What Is a Protected Class? https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-protected-class-4583111#:~:text=The%20Equal%20Employment%20Opportunity%20Commission%20%28EEOC%29%20is%20assigned,discriminated%20against%20on%20the%20basis%20of%20that%20trait.

Merrium-Webster (2022). Definition of disability. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disability

Merrium-Webster (2022). Definition of Paradox. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paradox

Palumbo, J. (2021). Why Autism Speaks is encouraging companies to hire those on the Autistic Spectrum. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferpalumbo/2021/04/27/why-autism-speaks-is-encouraging-companies-to-hire-those-on-the-autistic-spectrum/?sh=4dcdd9ff52a2

 

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Awarded Grant to Develop Autism Training for Justice System Professionals

By News, Press Release No Comments

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) was awarded a grant by the Oklahoma Bar Foundation (OBF) to develop training, resources, and expert guidance for Oklahoma’s justice system professionals. AFO’s goal is to assist professionals in better recognizing, understanding, and helping citizens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Oklahoma’s court system.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that individuals with disabilities, including autism, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than those without disabilities. Although researchers agree that most individuals with ASD are law-abiding citizens who are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them, they are still seven times more likely to intersect with the criminal justice system than individuals without ASD. AFO recognizes that judicial professionals may struggle with how to best identify and interact with autistic clients or citizens in the courtroom.

“The court’s understanding of ASD can make an enormous difference in various juvenile, family, criminal, and other court cases. Legal professionals need access to ASD education, resources, and advocates with autism knowledge and experience to better service and protect this vulnerable population,” says AFO’s Executive Director, Emily Scott.

“The training funded by the OBF will enable lawyers and judges to better understand and interact with individuals on the autism spectrum who need legal representation and appear in court. It will positively impact both the quality of services rendered and case outcomes as these individuals experience our justice system,” says OBF’s Executive Director, Renee DeMoss.

Additionally, AFO is creating a free justice resource collection for their website that will include on-demand videos, social stories, and a network of advocates to assist the courts with understanding the communication, social, and behavioral characteristics of ASD.

The first five trainings will be held at Workflow Commons (916 NW 6th St. Oklahoma City, OK 73106) on the following dates:
o July 26; 10am-12pm
o August 23; 10am-12pm
o September 20; 10am-12pm
o October 25; 10am-12pm
o November 15; 10am-12pm

For registration information, contact AFO Project Coordinator Leah Harris at lharris@autismfoundationok.org.

About Autism Foundation of Oklahoma
The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Oklahomans with autism and their families. AFO’s programs provide education, advocacy, professional development, and individual and family support for Oklahoma’s autism community. To learn more, visit www.autismfoundationok.org.

Media Contact
Leah Harris, Project Coordinator
lharris@autismfoundationok.org
1+(405) 237-8390

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Receives a $100,000 grant from the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma

By News, Press Release No Comments

 

The Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma (MCFOK) has awarded $100,000 to the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) for its Early Childhood and Public Safety programs. This generous gift will help AFO provide autism education and resources to childcare providers, law enforcement professionals, and emergency first responders throughout Oklahoma.

“In the last two years, AFO staff and volunteers have developed autism education for numerous professionals, including child care workers, law enforcement agents, and emergency first responders. Thanks to this significant gift from MCFOK, AFO will now be able to obtain the resources we need to launch these trainings statewide.”

“Not all persons on the autism spectrum can effectively communicate with first responders,” said John Logan, Executive Director of MCFOK. “We hope this grant will provide first responders, educators, and childcare professionals with additional tools to assist them in communicating with and responding to the needs of the autism community.”

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma is a 501c3 nonprofit that aims to improve the lives of Oklahomans with autism and their families across the lifespan. AFO specializes in providing education, resources, and program support for early childhood development, workforce development, public safety, and criminal justice reform initiatives. For additional information, visit www.AutismFoundationOK.org.

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma to Host Sensory-Friendly Vaccine Clinics

By Healthcare, Press Release No Comments

 

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) has partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to provide sensory-friendly vaccine clinics to Oklahoma residents with autism or other disabilities and their caregivers.  The COVID-19 vaccine will be available for children as young as five years old, as well as other adult and childhood vaccines upon request.

The following five clinics are scheduled for the summer of 2022:

June 23- Woodward County Health Department

June 28th- Oklahoma City-County Health Department

July 15th- Comanche County Health Department in Lawton  

July 22nd- FUNdamentals Therapy in Ardmore in partnership with the Carter County Health Department

July 28th- Crossover Health Services in partnership with the Tulsa County Health Department

Prior to each event, clinic staff will receive sensory kits and specialized training for autism and other disabilities sponsored by a grant awarded to AFO from OSDH. Patients will also receive gift bags containing resources and helpful items for families to use with their children when visiting other new and possibly stressful places in their communities.

“We look forward to hosting five statewide sensory-friendly vaccine clinics this summer and appreciate the support of the Oklahoma State Health Department. AFO’s clinics are designed to help individuals and family members feel more comfortable in a local health care setting that is both educated and equipped to accommodate special needs,” says AFO’s Health Equity Project Coordinator Chandee Kott.

Children that are a part of the CDC’s Vaccines For Children (VFC) program are also eligible to receive their back-to-school immunizations. To learn more about this initiative, visit autismfoundationok.org/covid-19-resources.

Image courtesy of CDC.gov.

Media Contact:
Chandee Kott, Health Equity Project Coordinator
Email: ckott@autismfoundationok.org,
Phone: 1+(210)287-7522

 

afo-workplace-development

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Awarded Grant to Develop Autism Training for Employers

By Press Release No Comments

The Developmental Disabilities Council of Oklahoma (DDCO) has awarded the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) a grant to support its mission to increase employment opportunities for individuals with autism and other disabilities. AFO hopes to reach all four quadrants of the state of Oklahoma within the first three years of the project, effectively including and accommodating individuals with autism in recruitment, hiring, and employment retention.

AFO will develop, implement, and market a 4-part training series to raise awareness of neurodiversity and effective management practices for participating employers. The training will be certificate-based and include membership into a network of trained employers for future candidates to consider.

“Finding meaningful employment after high school is a major source of concern for families across the state. More than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education two years after high school, which is a lower rate than young adults in all other disability categories. By increasing employer knowledge of autism and other related disabilities, AFO seeks to decrease the number of neurodiverse adults who are unemployed or under-employed in our state,” says Emily Scott, AFO Executive Director.

“The Developmental Disabilities Council of Oklahoma believes in the vision of this project as it pushes us closer to our mission of advancing communities where everyone has the opportunity to live, learn, work, and play where they choose. Employment is one of the most significant ways to improve an individual’s quality of life. It enables individuals to contribute to society through meaningful connections and economic sufficiency. DDCO is proud to partner with AFO in this effort,” states Jen Randle, DDCO Executive Director.

Additionally, AFO will develop a plan and infrastructure to provide ongoing support to employers who complete the training series, including requests for workplace accommodations assistance, sensitivity training, and navigating unique employee situations.

NOTE: The public is being asked to help AFO with a needs-based assessment for this project. These surveys should take you no longer than 5-10 minutes (each) to complete and AFO sincerely appreciates your participation.

Survey for individuals, family members, and caregivers: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/employingtheneurodiverse 

Survey for employers: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LPXXMPB 

For questions or more information, contact Leah Harris, Project Coordinator, at LHarris@AutismFoundationOK.org.

sensory-kits-first-responders

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Launches Sensory Kits for First Responders

By Mental Health, Press Release No Comments

With support from local and national partners, the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) now offers sensory kits for first responders, businesses, and community organizations to better serve Oklahomans on the autism spectrum.

Research shows that sensory kits can effectively increase critical communication and comfort for individuals with autism and other special needs in new and high-stress situations. AFO’s sensory kits contain a weighted lap pad, noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses, picture communication cards, activity books, a notepad and pen, and several handheld fidgets for all ages.

AFO recently received several grants totaling $6,500 from Walmart stores in Norman, Moore, Mustang, and Newcastle. Executive Director Emily Scott credits Brandan Branum, General Manager of store #7294 in Norman, for helping AFO turn an idea into reality, “Brandan played a pivotal role in helping AFO get our sensory kits out into the community. I called his store last summer to request a single product donation, and he did us one better by sharing our story with his colleagues.”

Branum had one small request of AFO when the kits were ready, “I asked whether our store’s local police department could receive a kit. Many of our customers have a loved one with autism. I have a child on the spectrum, and my wife is an autism therapist. Anything we can do to help our local first responders better assist those with special needs is a good thing,” said Branum.

“After months of navigating supply chain issues and shipment delays, it was a great feeling to finally call Brandan back and invite him to help us donate kits to Norman Police,” said Scott. “We wanted him to see in-person what he helped kick-start.”

“We are grateful for the generosity of our community partners like the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma and Walmart. These sensory kits provide an additional resource for our officers when they contact individuals with autism or other special needs. Resources such as these are crucial for helping all individuals in need during an emergency or high-stress situation and the steps that follow. We hope to be able to expand the program and increase the number of kits in patrol vehicles and interview rooms moving forward to ensure an inclusive experience.” – Chief Kevin Foster

In addition to Walmart, AFO has received gifts from Baker Speech Clinic, the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma, MUDD Printing, and the St. Louis Cardinals for this project. The sensory sits are available for purchase on AFO’s website.

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