Twenty-year-old Jersey City resident Joseph Silver walked through the door, put on his apron, grabbed his towel, and began wiping down the first table nearest the door as he did every morning.
This is part of his schedule, his new regimen, now that he landed his first job at Gino’s Pizzeria on Central Avenue.
“This is really just so important for him,” said his father, Al Silver. “Routines are so important for anyone who has autism. It really helps them.”
Joseph, who was first diagnosed with what is now called autism spectrum disorder at a young age, has never had a job.
His dad explained he would avoid eye contact, be uncommunicative, and was prone to “meltdowns” when he got frustrated.
Now he has made “enormous strides.”
“I have seen such an improvement,” Al said. “You honestly have no idea what this means to me, what it means for him. To see this transformation is remarkable. It really is.”
Al says Joseph’s personality has changed. He’s interacting more with other people, and when he begins to have trouble or get frustrated he adapts.
“One time he was trying to clean the tables as he always does, but a man was still seated at one of them,” Al said. “I could see him begin to get frustrated as he tried to work through what he should do next. Changes in his routine can be very difficult for him, but then he said ‘excuse me I need to clean the table.’ The man moved to an already clean table, and Joseph was able to continue without any problems. I was impressed and so proud of him.”
In good company
Joseph is not alone. Nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. That number will only continue to grow as over the next decade, an estimated 500,000 teens (50,000 each year) will enter adulthood and age out of school-based autism services, according to Autism Speaks.
According to the autism advocacy organization, more than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and un-enrolled in higher education in the two years after high school, which is a lower rate than that of young adults in other disability categories, including learning disabilities, intellectual disability, or speech-language impairment.
“He is instrumental in preparing this business to get ready for the day,” said Councilman Michael Yun who’s office is a block from the pizzeria and heard of Joseph’s story. “Without him, they wouldn’t be able to provide proper service. Every aspect of the business is important. No job is too small, and Gino’s is doing amazing work. How many business people give jobs to the disabled?”
Andrew Saputo who owns Gino’s Pizzeria with his brother Frank Saputo, said that hiring Joseph was a no-brainer, because he knew Al from growing up in the neighborhood. When Al asked if Joseph could work a few days a week during the summer, it was an easy decision.
“I wish more people would give them a chance. They are incredibly reliable and task-driven.” — Andrew Sauputo
Saputo said he hopes more local businesses will employ people with disabilities.
“I think people, especially the older generation, don’t understand really what autism is or how it affects people,” said Saputo whose nephew has autism spectrum disorder. “They understand everything that is going on. It just takes them longer to process it, and if given the chance they can really flourish.”
“I wish more people would give them a chance,” Sauputo said. “They are incredibly reliable and task-driven, and I know that if they do, they won’t regret it. They will find it is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to help people.”
Joseph plans to finish his final year of high school at Academy 360 in Livingston this year and get his diploma.
After that Al said he thinks Joseph might go to culinary school or pursue a career in the culinary industry.
“I think this is something he has become passionate about,” Al said. “This job has really given me hope for his future.”