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LaunchAbility News- August 2017

A Special Evening with Jennifer Nettles

LaunchAbility's 16th Annual "A Special Evening" featuring Jennifer Nettles was a huge success!  The event hosted by Alliance Data and chaired by Beth & Steve McGaw was held on May 18th at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center and was a wonderful way to showcase how much LaunchAbility's services impact the community.

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Over The Past 15 Years, A Special Evening.....

AT&T Internship Pilot Program

LaunchAbility is thrilled to announce a new summer internship program partnering with AT&T.  It is designed for individuals on the Autism spectrum and provides a unique learning opportunity for individuals to develop their skills in business and technology, while also benefiting from job coaching in the workplace.  Four student interns are participating and gaining valuable real world experience!  Their tasks range from data reporting and analysis to creating and editing training presentations.  According to Anne Hudson, Director of Disability Hiring for LaunchAbility, "this exposure to real world work experience is invaluable when searching for a permanent position in the future."  Thanks to AT&T for their partnership, and to the interns for all of their hard work this summer!

Read this great article about one of the interns here

At&T Summer Internship 2017

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LaunchAbility Academy

LaunchAbility's Academy Training Program has been successfully training and placing adults with disAbilities in jobs since 2010 through our partnerships with local employers.  In April, FritoLay joined in and hosted their first Academy Training at their distribution center in Carrollton.  Four trainees went through the program and learned many jobs during their 6-week training at FritoLay, including: perfect building walk, sorting, put-backs and picking orders.  The work experience at FritoLay was invaluable to the trainees and allowed them a chance to build their resumes and improve on their communication skills in the workplace.  FritoLay gave the trainees an opportunity, and by the end of the training, offered permanent positions to 2 of the trainees from the Academy!  Thank you, FritoLay, for your support of LaunchAbility and congratulations to our trainees!

Frito Lay

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Join us in welcoming our newest team member at LaunchAbility- Will Stoker

Will Stoker

"A little about me- I am married and have two awesome boys. I began working with kids at the age of 16 as my love of sports prompted me to begin volunteering and coaching. I worked with students with disabilities while employed by the Dallas Independent School District and am excited to now be joining the team at LaunchAbility! I will be working with Academy trainees and with clients as a Job Coach.

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Launch Ability 2017 Fundraising Logo Final

CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE FOR DISABLED CITIZENS ON July 4th

LaunchAbility, the non-profit organization in the Dallas area that assists intellectually developmentally and disabled (IDD) adults find jobs fitting their unique skills, today announced the kickoff of the LaunchAbility ‘Independence’ fundraising campaign on July 4th.


“On the day America celebrates its independence, we ask that each one of us takes a moment to consider what independence means not only to us as Americans, but to adults living with cognitive differences – often this is as simple as finding purpose in their work and to live as independent citizens”, said Rick Van Hooser, Executive Director of LaunchAbility. “The decision to use Independence Day to launch this campaign is an important symbol for LaunchAbility and the clients we serve.”


LaunchAbility helps to serve the one in 13 people ages 18-64 in the DFW metroplex that has a disability, through employment placement and job coaching. LaunchAbility clients work in many different industries, from office work and medical environments, to food service and software testing. “For LaunchAbility, we focus on the unique abilities of our clients, not their disabilities, and we work to make sure each of our clients gets to celebrate their independence in their own way, every day,” Van Hooser added. 


Seeking to improve awareness of, and secure needed funds to support the organization’s Placement, Supported Employment, and Academy programs, the Independence campaign looks to raise $76,000 between July 4, 2017 and North Texas Giving Day on September 14, 2017. 


LaunchAbility is a 501c3 organization providing career services, including assessment, mentoring and placement, for adults and veterans with cognitive disabilities. To learn more about LaunchAbility, or to give toward the Independence campaign, visit www.LaunchAbility.org, call (972) 991-6777, or follow @LaunchAbilityTX on Twitter, @LaunchAbility on Instagram, and Facebook.  DONATE NOW

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Autism Summer Internship

LaunchAbility is accepting applicants for a June – August 2017 summer paid internship program at a corporate headquarters site in downtown Dallas. The program is designed for students on the Autism Spectrum. Students currently enrolled in a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or recent graduates (less than 1 year) are encouraged to apply. Tasks will include data analytics/trends/forecasting, collecting data, creating presentations, and/or aggregating data and creating reports using Sharepoint.

Preferred skillsets/experience include:

• Business Administration, HR, Math, Computer Science, and similar
• Word, Excel, Powerpoint
• Experience or interest in data analysis, data entry
• Good communication skills

Soft skills training and job coaching support will be available as part of the internship.

For more information or to submit an application please contact autismtraining@launchability.org

Click here to view the full job description.

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Studio Movie Grill Supporting LaunchAbility

Studio Movie Grill features LaunchAbility client Kevin in their video series of employee stories. The video also features LaunchAbility’s own Robin Surovik and Amy Castenada. Kevin’s remarkable story perfectly highlights how a community focused company such as SMG can partner with LaunchAbility to bring confidence and independence to those with different abilities. We thank Adrien and Sophia from SMG for their excellent work in creating this heartwarming short film, and all of us are exceptionally proud of Kevin! Watch the video HERE.

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Unique Training Opportunity!

What is it?
LaunchAbility, with the support and guidance of experienced IT Consulting providers and the AT&T Foundation, is launching a pilot program to initiate a Quality Assurance and Software Testing training program for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in Dallas.
Do you have what it takes?
• Are you on the Autism Spectrum?
• Are you 18 or older?
• Do you have experience working with computers and/or knowledge of software applications?
• Are you interested in Software Testing and/or Quality Assurance?
• Are you willing to voluntarily participate in an Assessment and Training program as an unpaid candidate for a period of up to 8 weeks, without compensation or guarantee or future employment?
• Are you fluent in English?
• Are you a self-driven and motivated individual?
If you answered yes to these questions, you might just have what it takes!
Send us your resume no later than July 30, 2016 to autismtraining@launchability.org.

2016 Kalin Training

Here's the Scoop! Point him in the right direction and watch him lead.

“Never heard of the place.” That’s what Kalin said when he was told he was moving to Dallas, Texas. “I kinda expected all these horses and cactus everywhere.” But quiz him about Rome, Japan or Costa Rica and he’ll give you a lengthy professorial-like dissertation. Especially about shinkansen—the Japanese bullet train.

Kalin has worked incredibly hard to overcome severe learning disabilities. Reading and comprehension were seemingly unattainable. School was not a fun experience for him. Classrooms have “always been distracting…they throw me off,” he confessed. Not surprisingly, he didn’t quite grasp cursive writing in school so now he’s determined to perfect it. As well as typing on a keyboard. He’s never driven a car but now that he’s nearing 30, he’s proud of the potential freedom his new learner’s permit represents.

Truth be told, it’s not easy for Kalin to organize himself. He can now follow a book, a story or a play. Those all seem much easier for him than logical next steps inside his own mind. He unabashedly prefers order and structure but left to his own devices, that outcome often remains aloof.

Now Kalin works 6 days a week at a gourmet ice cream shop—a job LaunchAbility helped him secure. He loves talking to and greeting customers. Ask him how the ice cream flavor Hot Tamale got its name, and you’ll hear about the barbershop next door. He’ll tell you how their love of the candy by the same name helped spawn a new ice cream flavor.

All of the employees in the ice cream shop have cognitive disabilities. Kalin is the oldest. He also is a mentor to the younger part-time high school students working at the shop. As Amy Castaneda, his LaunchAbility job coach says: “It’s amazing to see our client with his own significant disabilities teaching others with disabilities. It’s incredible.”

Kalin takes work very seriously especially when there is something to finish. But without a next thing to do spelled out, Kalin becomes somewhat adrift.

On a visit to his work, Amy overheard the shop owner remind him that he shouldn’t stand idle during working hours. Realizing it wasn’t him slacking off but more of a function of his lack of ability to process next steps, Amy came up with a task list of all his duties. She then had it laminated. Kalin uses a dry erase marker to check off his work tasks. It reminds him of what needs to be done. At the end of the day he wipes the board clean. Usually with a huge smile on his face.

Kalin works hard and it pays off. “I make so much money now,” he said enthusiastically. “I’m loaded with money.” Although he’s not really sure what he wants to do with it, but one thing is for sure, he is happy to have it.

Recently, he played the Ghost of Christmas Future in a performance of A Christmas Carol—a show put on by the community theatre group he belongs to. We like to think of Kalin and the other LaunchAbility clients as the Inspirational Spirits of Disability Hiring Future. That’s a story we can all feel good about.

BTW - since this story was written, Kalin now opens the shop and trains other team members. One chart and a thoughtful job coach is the difference between unemployment and a team leader!

2016 Chris Rosas And Daughter

A Hero - Better than the Comic Book kind

Not many of us plan on moving to Dover, New Jersey. Not exactly the garden spot of the Garden State. But it is where The Kubert School is located—a three-year program that teaches graphic art and the country’s only accredited school of cartooning. Their graduates work at Marvel, DC and Archie comics, as well as The Simpsons and The New Yorker magazine.

In Dallas, 1,500 miles away, Chris was thrilled to be accepted to the school, and he and his wife were searching housing options in N.J. He had been drawing comics since third grade, and his dream of being a professional cartoonist was falling into place. That is, until a drunk driver changed the plan by plowing into their car on a local highway and turning their vehicle into a 4,000 lb. gyroscope. They spun for what seemed like minutes and came to rest in the middle of the highway. Immediately Chris began a frantic effort to get his wife to safety. The accident dislocated his shoulder, but that didn’t prevent him from trying to push her out of the car. He kept yelling, insisting she get out and off the highway. She was 6 months pregnant at the time. Just as she was free of the car and had climbed over the guardrail to safety, an 18-wheel tractor-trailer crashed into the car with Chris still inside.

At the hospital the doctor told Chris’s wife, “If he lives, he will be in a persistent vegetative state”. He had blood seeping into his brain along with other internal injuries. He was in a coma and the prognosis wasn’t good. After weeks in the hospital, the blood clot causing the most concern had somehow disappeared. When Chris did finally awake from his coma, he actually thought he was Batman and his wife was Catwoman—an apparent homage to his cartooning dreams.

And like Batman, Chris miraculously survived his life and death ordeal. But there was much rehab work to do. It took him long months of re-learning how to walk and deal with the psychological issues related to his lingering medical concerns.

It’s been almost 4 years now and Chris has what is called TBI. Traumatic Brain Injury. He suffers from memory loss due to his accident. “I guess you can say the bleeding caused kind of a short-circuit in my brain,” he half-joked. He’s taught himself Photoshop and his writing has improved a bit. But his drawings are unrecognizable. His dreams of being a professional cartoon illustrator have all but been erased.

Chris found LaunchAbility and was a graduate of their Academy program at UT Southwestern. “Going through the Academy Program helped give Chris the confidence to cope with his unexpected disability,” his job coach Morisa Myrick said. LaunchAbility not only trained Chris and helped him get full-time work after the accident, they gave him the tools to handle different situations. He had always been self-sufficient. But now that he has TBI, it took some coaching for him to realize he was letting his pride get in the way at work. “Morisa, convinced me that it was all right to tell people about my memory loss. Now I’m okay asking the person I’m talking with to write stuff down. LaunchAbility didn’t care about my shortcomings, they cared about helping me find a job. And, more importantly, keep it.”

The great news: Chris is no longer a LaunchAbility client. He decided to go to school for medical coding and found a part-time job on his own. “He made the most of our help and moved on, creating a better life for himself. We’re all so exited…and I’m so proud of him,” Morisa gushed. When Chris heard that, he beamed. Even after all he’s been through, he certainly hasn’t forgotten how to smile. Or hug his wife and 3½ year-old daughter Poli. Yes, the baby his wife was carrying when he pushed her out of the car to safety was a beautiful, healthy little girl delivered three months after the accident. He may not be able to draw a comic book hero any longer, but to his wife and daughter, Chris will always be their Superman!

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Good Life Family Magazine knows Special Needs!

LaunchAbility is a job-placement service for underserved and overlooked adults with cognitive disabilities. Click here for the whole article pdf

Or, here for the GLF website

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5000 Autism Jobs by 2020 in the Tech Workforce

We are a proud supporter of the 5000 Initiative: Autism in Tech Workforce, uniting companies who train and employ people with autism in technology positions – resulting in 5000 jobs for these individuals by the Year 2020. An estimated 500,000 young adults with autism will be entering the workforce during the next decade. Employers are seeing advantages to hiring these individuals, many of whom have strengths that lend to succeeding in technology – often quality assurance, data services and software and website testing. To learn more, go to the 5000 Initiative official Twitter page: https://twitter.com/search?q=%405000autismjobs&src=typd

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Television won’t cure cancer. But sometimes it can help diagnose Autism.

Television won’t cure cancer. But sometimes can help diagnose Autism.

While filming Season 5 of Parenthood, the NBC show he created, writer Jason Kitims had no idea he was about to not only shake and rattle network television, but a 46 yr. old graphic designer in Dallas Texas as well.

****See Ron and LaunchAbility CEO Kathryn Parsons on CBS***

Ron was watching as he usually did, and was stunned to learn the 9 yr. old boy in the show was diagnosed with Asperger’s. He was on the spectrum—the Autism spectrum. “As I watched the show a light bulb went off. That could be me,” Ron thought. “If that kid in the show could be someone with Autism, maybe I might be too.” He immediately GOOGLED undiagnosed autism and discovered a book called Pretending to be Normal. His first reaction to that title was “WOW! That’s what I do.” In fact, that’s what Ron had been doing his entire life. Even though his parents tell him, to this day, he was such a normal child, Ron knew differently. His anxiety around people, in new surroundings and just the thought of interacting with others caused insufferable angst and often led to stuttering and involuntary withdrawal. His lack of organizational skills and reading aptitude were internally crippling. But he never let on. Not fitting in was his normal.

Ron was tested and finally appropriately diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. “How did you get so far for so long?” the astonished psychologist wondered aloud. He shrugged. To Ron it was like being elbowed in the gut first thing every morning. After a while, that becomes your daily existence.

It’s been two years since the diagnosis, and Ron feels incredibly relieved. It all seems to make more sense now. Why he has trouble interviewing and making eye contact. Why when he would sometimes play the piano or get immersed in an activity he would become completely oblivious to the outer world. And why, if he had to be somewhere at 8, he’d arrive at 6:30 or 7 to settle his mind and assemble his thoughts.

Ron is a LaunchAbility client looking for work as a graphic designer. He has amazing skills. A solid portfolio. And calling him a hard worker is to understate the obvious. He’s overcompensated throughout his life and completed high school and college through sheer determination and intestinal fortitude. He overcame his nameless disability with his own abilities. He attributes his diagnosis with helping save his marriage and be more himself with his three daughters. All that awareness has taught him not to beat himself up so much.

Ron sometimes wishes he’d been diagnosed as a child like on the show, instead of decades later. “Maybe it would have been different for me” he said. Looking back, it’s impossible to know what his yesterday might have looked like. What we can say for sure is that LaunchAbility will be there to help Ron’s today and tomorrow shine.

2016 Kalin At Howdys

Howdy, Partner!

Tom congrats on more great awareness building! Thanks NBC for giving the company the press they deserve for taking the -dis out of disAbilities.

It's great to partner with you and big congrats to Kalin for his new job at Howdy Homemade!

2015 Amy And David Franke

Texas Homes for Sale Promotes our Clients' Abilities

We were recently featured on Texas Homes for Sale, one of the top sites for Plano, TX Real Estate. Check out the article here: LaunchAbility Stresses the "Ability" in All of Us.

Eye Contact

A LIAR. A PROFESSIONAL POKER PLAYER. AND A PERSON WITH AUTISM.

Before we tell you why they’re different, let’s touch on why they are even in the same grouping to begin with. The one thing they do have in common—all three rarely if ever make eye contact. It should be obvious why the first two avoid looking us in the eye—they’re trying to deceive us. But the person with autism is in the group for an entirely different reason. It’s a byproduct of their disability.

Whatever the reason, all three violate the social norm by avoiding eye contact when speaking. But that same social construct may be unknowingly hurting the growing autistic population.

When we talk about the “rules” of eye contact, we should look at who made the rules in the first place. Neuro-typicals (NT), or persons without a cognitive disability, have boldly declared: “the eyes are the window to the soul.” But considering those words were written by William Shakespeare who many believe was a person who had Asperger’s Syndrome—of course not diagnosed as such back then—the whole window to the soul thing seems quite ironic, wouldn’t you say?

The issue is that a person who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will more often than not have an issue making eye contact with most people. Just by the definition of the disorder given by our own Centers for Disease Control. It says: ASD is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

The truth is, people who have autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with reading even the most overt social cues in context. That goes for body language, hand cues, most gestures and the one that makes them most uncomfortable: eye contact.

How come? Why is it so difficult for someone with ASD to look someone in the eye? There are a few answers. Firstly, let’s just come right out and be blunt. Or, should we say, go right between the eyes—pun intended. It is very difficult for persons with ASP to concentrate on what words to say in a conversation and to also concentrate on looking in someone’s eyes as they do it. Their minds are working overtime to process the information coming in and double-time working to get out what they want to communicate that the process of looking in someone’s eyes while they do it is extremely daunting. That concentration is needed for the verbal communication and “wasting” energy on eye contact just takes away from the task at hand.

A young woman named April put it this way: “When I look in people’s eyes it is an intense experience and I find it hard to focus on their words.” We often find a connection when we look into someone’s eyes. Someone with ASD will more often than not, become lost.

For many, the sensory overload is virtually impossible to handle. Let’s just say too much sensory input makes eye contact difficult for many, and sometimes even physically painful.

Another way to think about it is the Left/Right brain connection. Or, in the case of most with ASD, the broken link. Most neurotypical persons (NT) have a flowing relationship between the left and right side of their brains. The logical left side works in conjunction with the creative (non-linear) right side. The left brain controls speech and language. The right side often interprets the world around us—music, sounds, emotions and the nuances of life. When both sides are working in conjunction, the flow of information is not only informative but functional.

When a “NT” has a conversation with another person, we might say something to them and almost instantly notice or perceive a “response” from the other person. Our brain made the connection by seeing that slight look of concern or an ever-so-subtle head turn and make the judgment that we might have struck a nerve, said something hurtful or that they possibly just didn’t understand what we were saying. We will usually correct ourselves or ask if we said something wrong or inappropriate. Our left brain said the words, our right brain interpreted the reaction and our left/right brain combo had a quick, impromptu staff meeting of the mind and before long, we were attempted to remedy the situation. Someone with ASD won’t get the memo. No such meeting will occur because no such information can be communicated left to right brain or visa versa.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when someone with ASD doesn’t get anything out of making eye contact and may even find it a distraction and therefore useless, there’s absolutely no reason for them to do it.

Unfortunately for many persons with cognitive disabilities, the ability, or lack thereof, to make eye contact is not only uncomfortable for them but for whomever they’re talking with.

For persons with ASD who have the ability to work, relationships with co-workers can get strained rather quickly. Many find it difficult to even get past the interview process. Amy Castaneda, a Senior Employment Counselor at LaunchAbility in North Dallas will attend a job interview with her clients whenever possible. As a job coach she knows that many persons with cognitive disabilities are more than able to do the job. She just doesn’t want a miscommunication between a client and a prospective employer to be the reason for them to not be hired. Many times she will explain why her client isn’t making eye contact and that it is certainly NOT because of arrogance or because they have something to hide. Most interviewers understand it (left side of their brain) but they still very often find it somewhat uncomfortable (right side).

The German artist “Bareface” (her real name is Gee Vero) was diagnosed as a person with Asperger’s syndrome later in life after her son was diagnosed at the age of 2 ½. Her experience has been, for some reason, a person with Autism seem to be the lease respected of all the “different” people out there.

Vero might have discovered the best analogy possible: My response to people who complain about eye contact with autistic people is that if we were in a wheel chair no one would even think about getting upset about us not getting up when introduced.

She’s absolutely right. And if we were speaking to a person who is blind, we certainly wouldn’t assume their lack of eye contact meant they were trying to hide something. We would hopefully attribute it to their disability.

We need to start doing the same to persons with ASD. Remember, they can see. They just can’t make eye contact while they’re doing it.

WE LAUNCH ABILITIES.

Archaic attitudes have evolved. Fears allayed. The disability workforce paradigm shift has finally arrived. For the past five decades we have been thumping that drum. Ahead of our time? Possibly. We prefer the notion that we were just poised, preparing for the inevitable realization. The vision that adjusts the myopic view of what those with disabilities can’t do and refocuses on their previously unseen abilities. Valuing gifts and abilities is what we are about. It is in our DNA. Disability hiring as a component of the Diversity equation and strong Corporate Citizenship, is part of that inevitable shift. The opportunity is to think strategically about diverse talent and career development and serve the 21st. century workforce. Building a community of inclusion is inevitable as we continue to focus the light of opportunity on our clients and watch them shine like the glistening prisms of achievement and self-realization they are.