Small-Business Center Addresses Unemployment for Adults with Autism


Four organizations in Oakland County have teamed up to address Michigan’s employment shortcomings for adults with autism with the launch of the Small-Business Center.

Based in Oakland University’s business accelerator, OU INC, the Small-Business Center will promote businesses that focus on hiring adults with autism, providing participants with job training, coaching, and payment.

“With 90 percent of adults with autism unemployed or underemployed, taking this bold move is critical to giving these individuals a real purpose and better quality of life,” says Colleen Allen, president and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan, which is collaborating with Judson Center, Oakland University, and Smiles for Children, on the center.

Each business through the Small-Business Center will integrate students from OU’s School of Business Administration to serve as mentors. In addition, autism faculty experts and students from OU’s School of Education and Human Services will ensure that appropriate communication processes and other social integration accommodations are in place to assist the employees as they navigate their new jobs. 

“There are thousands of students on the autism spectrum transitioning from the public school system to adulthood each year,” says Jim Lentini, Oakland University’s senior vice president and provost for academic affairs. “Providing a roadmap for employment for these individuals is consistent with the university’s tradition of serving the needs of the entire community.”

The first company — due to begin this summer — is a pick-up, clean, fold, and delivery laundry business. Other micro businesses expected to launch through the program include document shredding, candle manufacturing, and janitorial services.

“I met with a former colleague of mine who runs an advertising agency and told her what we were up to and she called me a few days later and said she had 10 to 15 people ready to hand their laundry over to this micro-business today,” says Pat Kemp, who will serve as the executive director of the initiative. “It is very exciting to see the support from the surrounding business community behind this effort.”