School partners with employers to hire young adults with autism

James Bissett recently started a warehouse job at Hersheypark, helping with the park’s candy supply, taking inventory, rotating stock, shrink-wrapping products and assisting with displays.

Nothing would seem out of the ordinary except for one important fact: Bissett, 21, is autistic.

“This is what I always wanted for him,” Elizabeth Cogley said of her son. “Now I can sleep at night knowing he’s working and making a contribution to society.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 U.S. children is affected by autism. And because it can cause significant social and behavioral challenges, the prospect of entering the workforce may seem nearly impossible.

Cogley knows different.

“They’re extremely loyal and hardworking. They show up on time, they stick to the rules – they’re model employees.”

“James is doing fantastic at Hersheypark,” Cogley said, adding that since he started working, his confidence level has increased, he’s using more language and he’s “very proud of himself.”

“My dream for him is to eventually be able to work full time,” she said. “He’s currently working 30 to 35 hours a week, so he’s getting close.”

The Vista School

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Cogley credits the Vista School in Derry Township with helping Bissett reach his milestone.

Created in 2002 to prepare autistic children for public school and eventually the workforce, Vista serves more than 90 children with autism spectrum disorder from the ages of 3 to 21. Its educational and therapeutic programs include one-on-one instruction for learning new skills and, for older students, functioning independently.

Bissett, who was one of the school’s first students, graduated in August. Cogley said a crucial segment of his vocational training during the past year was working several part-time jobs to find out what he might like to do — including at the Elizabethtown College cafeteria, the laundry department at Ronald McDonald House in Hershey and the wardrobe department at Hersheypark.

Larry Portzline
Larry Portzline covers York County, nonprofits, workforce and education. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at larryp@cpbj.com.

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