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New Jersey program provides job training, opportunities for people with autism


By Stephanie Stahl, Brad Nau

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    CHERRY HILL, New Jersey (KYW) — April is Autism Acceptance Month, and a South Jersey hospital does that every day by providing people with autism with new opportunities.

“We want to try to make them feel happy and make them feel comfortable,” Erik Carlson said.

Carlson is a greeter at Jefferson Cherry Hill Hospital.

“It’s changed my whole life, which I’m grateful for. It’s just made me very happy. I love working with people,” Carlson said.

Carlson is a graduate of Project Search, a program of the Y.A.L.E. School that provides job training and placement for people with disabilities.

Carlson went through a 10-month training program designed for students with autism and related disorders.

Ernie Laux is an instructor with Project Search.

“A lot of people think that just because somebody has a disability, everybody looks at what they can’t do. Where we turn it around and we look at what they’re good at and what they can do, and then we build on that,” Laux said.

Jefferson usually has about 6 project interns and has hired 40% for jobs at the hospital.

“As they gain different skills they have more autonomy on different roles but they always are assigned an employee to work with,” Jefferson Cherry Hill Vice President of Operations Frank Rocco said.

Owen Marple is a current intern working in the pharmacy.

“Project Search is about giving people on the spectrum a chance to work in a real-world environment and in my case especially, it’s helping with social skills because I’m not exactly the most social person.” Marple said.

Marple, who’s 21, is grateful for the opportunity and wants people to know this about people who have autism:

“It doesn’t make me too too different from everyone else. It’s not cooties, for one. I may be a little bit different, but that’s what makes me, me. We’re all different in our own special way,” Marple said.

Jefferson Cherry Hill has been working with interns from the program since 2016.

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