San Diego

Project Innovation: National Autism Research Foundation Helps Students Land Tech Jobs

Autism affects one in 68 people in the United States, and up to 85 percent of adults will not find work. San Diego-based National Foundation of Autism Research (NFAR) is trying to change that statistic.

NFAR's tech program trains people with autism in software testing along with important social skills to land a job in the tech industry.

The program is 7 months long and 3 days each week. By the end, students take a software certification exam.

NBC 7 has awarded NFAR a $25,000 grant for its efforts in helping people with autism succeed in the tech workplace.

"I’m excited to be here. I’m learning something new, something that’s in demand," Kyle Vidal, an NFAR student said.

While the data crunching may be daunting to most of the public, that’s actually the easy part for these high-functioning students with autism, many of whom have Asperger Syndrome. A bigger challenge for the students is handling social situations. 

"It’s a lot about how you portray yourself in public and sometimes I have the tendency to come off a little uneasy and it helps us to practice that here in a work environment," Vidal said.

The foundation also educates employers on autism.

"It’s very hard for them to even open the doors to get through those first steps of a job interview process and the NFAR tech program really helps kids, young adults I should say, seeking employment, how to do those things." parent Chelsea Assaro said.

Assaro’s 20-year-old son got his software certification last year, but what else he gained was invaluable.

"He came out much more confident, much more independent and really ready to pursue that goal of his," Assaro said.

That goal was landing a job or internship.

NFAR places grads at internships and jobs with local companies like Solar Turbines, Intuit, Via Sat, and Rady Children’s Hospital.

In its first few years, NFAR has helped place 30 students at high-tech jobs.

"It’s great, not without its challenges but that’s how you learn, through adversity. You’re going to learn how to overcome it,” Vidal said.

The tech program was recognized by San Diego City Council with a proclamation this week by Councilman Mark Kersey, District 5.

"Everyone deserves a chance to become self-sufficient and contribute to the workplace in their own unique way," Kersey said.

NFAR’S grant is one of eight being awarded to San Diego non-profits through Project Innovation, a program that aims to support organizations that are embracing technology and innovation to develop new community-wide solutions.

The NBCUniversal Foundation, NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 awarded $225,000 in grants to local non-profits through Project Innovation.

The NBCUniversal Foundation and NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations gave a total of $2.475 million in Project Innovation grants for 62 non-profits located all across the country.

Contact Us