Deaf man with Asperger's starts non-profit to help those with autism find jobs

Terricha Bradley


It's tough for many job seekers to find or retain employment in a rocky economy and can be even harder for adults with developmental disabilities.

Eric Hogan, 37, of Jackson, has a bachelor's degree in industrial technology from Mississippi State University.

A visual artist and computer whiz, Hogan has not landed a job since college.

"I have been to 15 to 20 job fairs in the past 13 years with no success," Hogan said.

He is deaf and also has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that impairs social and academic development.

Hogan is one of more than 1.5 million Americans with autism, according to the Autism Society of America.

While there is no official data, most experts agree the unemployment rate among individuals with Asperger's and other forms of high-functioning autism is as high as 85 percent, despite their typically above-average education, intelligence and technical aptitude, according to Aspiritech, a nonprofit that trains adults with Asperger's.

Symptoms can be recognized as early as age 3, but Hogan was diagnosed three years ago.

The difficulties with social interaction that are common in autism and Asperger's can make working in a typical group environment highly stressful.

And social awkwardness and unusual mannerisms often mean people with Asperger's are prejudged before they can prove themselves, something Hogan knows all too well.

But he always wanted to be an entrepreneur and last year started a nonprofit foundation called Autistic Advancement to integrate people with autism into the work force and raise awareness.

"I hope to inspire other entrepreneurs to hire people with autism," said Hogan, "and create jobs rather than find jobs that fit autistic people."

With Autistic Advancement, Hogan hopes to build alliances with various support groups and nonprofits around the state, such as Together Enhancing Autism Awareness in Mississippi, Mississippi Children's Home Services and Mississippi Parent Training & Information Center.

"People in the autism community need a strong social movement," Hogan said, "a cultural shift in the work force so they can get good jobs so they aren't left alone."

Deirdre Danahar is a life, career and wellness coach.

As for people with autism who tend to pay great attention to detail, "could that become an asset in a specific role?" Danahar asked. "If so, would that person be a good fit for a job?"

Hogan takes online classes through Hinds Community College and participates in a four-week grant writing class.

Once he finds suitable work, he can buy a better car and move out of his parents' home.

Seeking funding for Autistic Advancement to reach tax-exempt status keeps him on his toes.

In May, Hogan will travel to Denmark to visit Specialisterne, a software testing company that hires people with autism.

The vision of founder Thorkil Sonne is to create one million jobs for people with autism.

"I am going to do networking and learn more about how to accommodate others with autism in the workplace," Hogan said. "I hope I can replicate what they do within established companies."


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