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Autistic fashion designer proves disability can be an asset

Autistic fashion designer proves disability can be an asset (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Experts at the University of Utah say 80 percent of adults with autism don't have jobs. A group of individuals at the neuropsychiatric center are trying to change that.

"They're not comfortable searching for jobs and employers are not comfortable, or good, at recruiting them," said Anne Asman, Director of Development for psychiatry at the University of Utah. "They are extremely intelligent and extremely talented and they enhance and are an asset to just about any business they would be a part of."

Educators, employers and members of the autism community gathered at the University of Utah on Friday for a symposium aimed at providing more workforce opportunities for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Among those in attendance was Michael Andolsek, a 24-year-old budding fashion designer in Salt Lake City.

Andolsek has autism that was left undiagnosed until he was 21. He's now a functioning member of society who takes medication and meets regularly with a psychiatrist to manage his condition.

He's preparing to launch a new women's fashion line, "Andolsek", next year. What makes the business unique is Michael's dedication to hiring autistic employees.

"Since I have these sensitivities and I need natural light and I only want to work in a certain type of chair and I don't want anyone touching my utensils or my tools, then I bet there's other people just like me," he said. "I've met those people and I'm working with them now and we accommodate everyone's needs."

In his line of work, that requires a lot of focus-driven skills, autism is actually proving to be a great asset.

"Michael's able to just focus-in and get it done and the creativity is at a totally different level because of that," says Emily McCormick, his business partner.

Asman is hoping other businesses can see the success Michael has had and can follow suit to allow more workplace opportunities for those with autism.

"Most companies can make accommodation for people with disabilities," she says. "You can have people in wheelchairs, you can have people on oxygen, but when it comes to someone with autism, it's difficult, because their accommodation needs to be in a more social context."

Utah has a program called, Pathways to Careers, Asman says its a good place to start for adults with autism who are seeking employment.

Follow Chris Miller on Twitter @ChrisMillerKUTV for breaking news, updates and more.

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