For both parents and young adults, the transition from adolescence to adulthood can be quite daunting, especially as young adults start looking for jobs and pursuing their passions. For neurodiverse adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities, the path can be even more challenging. Fortunately, a number of organizations in California are responding to the need.
The seven Los Angeles County Regional Centers, under the oversight of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, are a great place to start. Each location is designed to provide community support, resources and access to services for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, including an employment program through the Department of Rehabilitation. The programs are offered to people 18 and up with a high school diploma or who are 22 and have a certificate of completion, according to South Central L.A. Regional Center Chief Advancement Officer Kiara Lopez.
Lopez says her regional center has services ranging from job training and tools to assistive technology and connecting jobseekers, and that participants have been placed with Disney, Walgreens, CVS, Starbucks, Jimmy John’s, Universal Studios and the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Beyond the Bell program.
Most regional centers also offer adult day services and programs relating to behavioral management, arts, culinary, theater arts, community integration and more. Plus, they offer transition-to-adulthood training, parent education classes and more to parents of young adults.
If you have, or are, a young neurodiverse adult looking for employment, Lopez advises speaking with the service coordinator at the regional center near you about employment goals or objectives — and to begin exploring employment options two years before exiting school. And for young adults who don’t yet know what they want to do, there’s no need to worry. “SCLARC is here to assist you and guide you,” she says.
The Help Group
The Help Group, based in Sherman Oaks, offers a range of programs and services geared toward neurodiverse individuals, helping them learn career skills, obtain part-time work and connect with their peers in fun social events.
The Help Group’s Advance LA program provides services to adults ages 18 to 35 and has been around for almost 10 years, according to Heather Humphrey, the senior director of adult and clinical services. Advance LA offers one-on-one coaching in which the coaches help clients write their resumes and apply for jobs. The coaches also help young adults struggling in college and who need help with organization, time management and other skills. “It’s really dependent on the individual and their goals and where the deficits and skills are,” Humphrey says. “Our job is to really help someone build up those skills so that there are no deficits or very few deficits.”
In addition to coaching, Advance LA offers social opportunities, from monthly Club LA events to recreational summer camp programs. Club LA events have included an RV arcade, cooking talent shows and art. Event locations vary depending on the activity. “Lots of young adults on the spectrum lack some social skills and have a really hard time maintaining friendships or making friends,” Humphrey says. “So, this is an opportunity for [them] to be in the same place at the same time and, hopefully, meet other folks that they’d like to be friends with to increase their social activities and their exposure to social groups and peers.”
The Help Group’s core services are its schools for neurodiverse students, from pre-kindergarten through high school. High school students often participate in its Workability program that receives funding from the Department of Education or its We Can Work Through program that is funded by the Department of Rehabilitation, in which students can get up to 100 hours of paid work experience in community-based settings. Once students reach 18, they can intern with various employers in the community and move over to the Bridgeport Vocational Center, geared for adults aged 18 to 22. For students interested in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, The Help Group has a STEM3 Academy to help students develop their skills in these fields before moving on to four-year universities.
Also on The Help Group’s menu of services:
- An employment program via the Department of Mental Health where young adults with a mental health diagnosis can pursue employment options.
- Parent coaching and parent support groups that aim to help parents learn to start letting go of their young adults, allowing them to become more autonomous.
Exceptional Minds has a similar philosophy. With the goal of helping young adults prepare for and pursue a career in the entertainment industry, the Sherman Oaks organization offers a three-year full-time program starting every fall. During the first year, students have the opportunity to figure out what their skills and passions are, whether it be animation, visual effects or 3D. When the second year rolls around, students can then focus on the areas they are passionate about and skilled in. In the final year, students enroll in advanced classes.
David Siegel, executive director and CEO of Exceptional Minds, noted that sometimes the program will allow students who just graduated from an art college to enter into the program as a second-year student. “We have a lot of different components and a lot of different types of programs so that we can really provide a customized experience for our participants,” Siegel says, “and being in Los Angeles puts us in really incredible proximity to this incredibly creative entertainment industry.”
Throughout the three years, students also take classes on vocational training and career readiness, learning how to participate in mock interviews and create a resume and portfolio. Students have access to the organization’s career center to further aid in developing their job-search skills. By the time they graduate, they go on to obtain internships, full-time jobs or work in the organization’s studio as a graduate artist. Siegel proudly notes that his students have been employed by Disney, Nickelodeon, Netflix and Mattel, and graduate artists have worked on visual effects and end credit sequences for a variety of Marvel movies.
“It’s just incredible how diverse the skill sets are of our artists, and how inclusive of those skill sets are our partners and the entertainment industry [are],” he says. “And we pride ourselves on developing a unique and really awesome workforce. It’s a talent pool that didn’t exist years ago, and now companies like Disney and Nickelodeon and Netflix, they’re looking at that talent pool as an opportunity to find new and unique voices and put them to work.”
Based in Los Angeles, Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1989 that offers friendship, inclusive living, leadership and employment programs.
Its first program, One-To-One Friendships, aimed to help develop friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities, from elementary school to college. There’s also an adult friendship program called Citizens for those who graduated or have aged out of the school system. “The program offers social interactions while improving the quality of life and level of inclusion for a population that is often isolated and excluded,” says Summer Robinson, the program supervisor for jobs at Best Buddies. “Through their participation, people with IDD [intellectual and developmental disabilities] form meaningful connections with their peers, gain self-confidence and self-esteem and share interests, experiences and activities that many other individuals enjoy.”
According to Robinson, Best Buddies has national employer partners — including Accenture, Mod Pizza, JLL, Office Depot and Holland & Knight — who help place job seekers.
Before participants secure employment, they work with a Best Buddies staff member or volunteer to create their resume, determine what career they wish to pursue and develop interviewing skills. Once a job is secured, staff assists them with the onboarding process, ongoing job coaching, employer support and employer DEI training.
Best Buddies also offers a living program for people with and without IDD to live independently and meet other residents, including students at UCLA, as the program partners with the university to give students access to local sporting events, provide on-campus meal plans, apply to on-campus jobs and join university clubs. Residents are assigned to a residential manager, who assists in budgeting, grocery shopping, roommate skills and more.
ETTA, previously known as the Etta Israel Center, is another organization in this field. The nonprofit runs an employment services program that provides vocational training and support for adults 18 and up with developmental disabilities. ETTA also has resources for students attending college, including helping with their class assignments, accompanying them to classes and helping them find competitive employment.
ETTA sponsors volunteer jobs through Café ETTA, its coffee kiosk stationed in the Cambridge Farms Supermarket in Valley Village. ETTA also volunteers with Food Forward, a nonprofit that fights hunger and food waste that also has a variety of volunteering options. ETTA volunteers help with the food giveaways every Thursday, which are done for the entire community and serve an average of 45 families, according to Josh Taff, the director of community relations and intake. ETTA is also in the process of creating a community farm near the main office in North Hollywood, where participants will plant and maintain crops.
“If somebody comes in and they want to do a program, we’ll assess them to make sure they’re appropriate for that and that we can meet their needs,” says Director of Programs Hillary Kessler. “We’ll ask them what do they want their lives to look like? What are their short-term goals? What are their long-term goals? How much support do they need? What should that support look like? And we try to implement that based on each person’s unique program.”
If you are, or know, a young neurodiverse adult looking for job training, the L.A. community has a number of options to help you find success.
Renee Elefante is a rising senior at Chapman University and an editorial intern for L.A. Parent. She is also the editor-in-chief for her university’s student-run newspaper.