Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability with unique characteristics. It affects individuals differently to varying degrees. Typically appearing during early childhood, autism can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation. The prevalence of autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 in 2020 according to the Autism Society.
Autism Society of America, along with leading disability organizations, recently announced it is formally shifting references of April’s “Autism Awareness Month” to “Autism Acceptance Month.” The change reflects an opportunity to raise awareness about inclusion for people with autism. And most importantly, what we can do to remove any remaining barriers.
Our ministry is committed to building a world-class workforce where people are valued for their skills and talents while also being appreciated for their uniqueness. That’s why we have proudly partnered with the Greenville County School District and the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department to launch a job training program for students with disabilities.
The program, called Project SEARCH, immerses high school seniors with intellectual and developmental disabilities in real-world work environments to help them gain job skills and be able to find employment after they graduate. Through these internship opportunities, with both the support and accommodations needed, students gain confidence, develop transferable job skills and learn to advocate for themselves.
“Because of my autism, it has always been a little bit difficult for me to be flexible,” explains Grace Castro, a current Project SEARCH intern at Bon Secours St. Francis Downtown. “This program has helped me become more flexible, mature and independent. It has helped me in other things too like time management, problem solving, teamwork and how to navigate around the hospital. I am learning to manage stress better too.”
During her time in Project SEARCH, Grace has trained in the catheterization laboratory (cath lab), the dish room as well as in the endoscopy and radiology departments. As an advocate for all people with disabilities, she prefers disclosing to others that she has autism.
“I have an autistic brain and it causes me to think differently than those who have something different than autism or those who don’t have it,” says Grace. “Sometimes I overthink things. Sometimes I ask lots of questions. I want everybody to know that autism is not something you can see in someone who has it. I have lots of positive abilities that those who don’t have autism don’t have. I pay close attention to details. I am very good at history and world geography, and I am very artistic too!”
Grace was recently featured by Hire Me SC on their Facebook page. Hire Me SC is an organization dedicated to changing the culture of disability employment in South Carolina. While April is Autism Acceptance Month, Grace hopes everyone will continue to be mindful year-round.
“I feel accepting someone with autism should be all the time and not just one month. People should accept all people whether they have a disability or not.”
Grace, who enjoys baking, is currently finishing up her final rotation in the cafeteria doing food prep. She is looking forward to graduating with her fellow classmates later this spring. They also had some feelings to share for on the issue of autism awareness and acceptance:
Reagan – “People with autism are capable.”
Jean – “Accepting someone with autism means including them.”
Rolando – “Be who you are and don’t let the disability define you.”
Madison – “Don’t let your disability stop you from doing what you love.”
Learn more about the behavioral and mental health services we provide at Bon Secours.