There’s nothing quite like your first paycheck. The sense of accomplishment. The feeling of reward. The realization of self-worth, knowing you put in work all your own, and the confidence that it builds. These experiences shape a person and help guide them toward a life of purpose and hope. But for individuals with disabilities, like autism or related disorders, the path to a career and independence is often uncertain.
“Autism is something that is poorly understood in our society,” said Kevin Dougherty, retired group vice president and chief digital officer for the Kroger Company.
People on the Autism Spectrum, Kevin said, feel isolated. They see a world that is difficult to understand and communicate with. Those who are neurotypical often find themselves challenged to understand what those who are neurodiverse feel and experience.
But Kevin and his wife Barb know there is so much a person with a disability has to share. Creativity. Passion. The ability to grow, learn and contribute, sometimes in most impressive ways.
The drive to help individuals overcome these obstacles directed Kevin and Barb to Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati, an organization that, for so many, is the essential stepping stone to an independent life.
“I don’t think we understood the full scope of what they can do,” said Barb.
When Barb saw how transformative the experience could be, she felt personally connected and driven to support.
Easterseals helps more than just those with disabilities. It helps military veterans transitioning to life after combat. It helps teenagers identify their skills and prepares them professionally and personally for a life of independence. It helps break down barriers like inadequate resources and unfair judgment from the community.
“All of a sudden, somebody starts to learn how to become more of a part of what we call the typical world,” said Kevin.
Kevin and Barb feel fortunate, which is why they made gifts to start and sustain the Xavier University X-Path Program, an initiative that helps students on the autism spectrum develop social skills as a foundation for success in life. It’s also why Kevin and Barb support Easterseals.
“Whatever the reason they’re in that state of needing a chance, a hand, and a dollar spent here goes very directly toward, not handouts, but a pathway out of that situation and into a place where they can be on their own,” said Kevin.
For many, this opportunity is the first time they are, as Barb said, “adulting”. The look on the face of a 23-year-old paying for her parents’ dinner with the money she earned for the first time. The world at that moment starts to look very different. Real people, real enthusiasm. Real confidence.
“With confidence, you see the ability to start to break out of the constraints of living in a world that kept you to yourself,” said Kevin.
And when you’re welcomed into the real world, you can show the real world what you’re made of.