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In April 2012, 21-year old Billy Pagoni made a public plea to President Obama asking for help to enroll in higher education, a plea which received a lot of public support. Billy was diagnosed with severe autism when he was 18-months-old and has always dreamed of becoming a chef.
Billy recently finished his senior year of high school and has found a vocational program in Connecticut called KNEADS. Through this program, Bill works in a greenhouse, breaking down and learning gardening-related skills.
Despite finding this program, Billy still was a post-high school, academic experience, something his parents say, the White House could not even help with.
When Billy reached out to the president over a year ago, the White House spokesperson answered with a list of colleges that had academic programs tailored to students with autism. According to Billy’s mother, these programs were designed for students who are high-functioning, and there really are not programs out there for students like her son.
As a parent, you can have all the money in the world, but if your son or daughter is not connected, then it feels like you’ve failed,” Edith Pagoni, Billy’s mother says.
As for KNEADS, their program is becoming a model to help young adults with autism integrate into the workforce.
“If they could carve certain jobs out and then bring it to a vocational trade school and call it a program, then they would have a path towards employment,” Edith said. “But we need to get these companies to pull together to understand that that would be a great path with someone with autism.”
For more information on ICare4Autism’s workforce program, read the link here: http://www.icare4autism.org/global-autism-center/comprehensive-autism-workforce-development-initiative/ ICare4Autism is a non-profit organization that works in collaboration with Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices.