Local partnership gives young adults with autism jobs for Christmas

Thanks to a local partnership in South Carolina, some very special employees have a place to work this Christmas. It’s all part of a pilot program between Adult Spectrum Transitions in York County and Shutterfly Incorporated.

Jaden Cline loves his new job at Shutterfly Inc. in Fort Mill. It’s the teen’s first job, a seasonal hire in the gift department.

“All in all it’s just been great and I’ve been loving it so far," Cline said. 

Like many young adults with autism, Jaden graduated from high school without a clear path forward.

“I’m happy because I’d like to feel how it would be like to start working," he explained. 

And now, not only is he learning, he is also earning a paycheck.

“It feels actually good because, maybe, you never know you may be rich one day," Cline said. 

Across the work bench on Shutterfly’s production floor sits 22-year-old Jonathan Whisonant.

"The people are nice and patient," Whisonant said. 

Jonathan’s responsibilities include peeling, centering and taping picture frames. He admits, “I felt a little nervous but after 3 weeks I like it here now.”

This is Shutterfly’s busy season and it’s taken on 800 seasonal employees. Jaden and Jonathan are the first workers the company has ever hired with autism. Eric Steinmetz is the site manager.

“We really weren’t sure where they were at on the spectrum, and how they would interact with the noise," Steinmetz said. 

He says the uncertainty quickly disappeared. 

"Their quality is exceptional, productivity has been excellent and their attendance has been perfect," Steinmetz said. 

Tim Newman brought them together, getting results through Adult Spectrum Transitions, a program he founded in York County. Newman says he saw a need for services, raising two twin boys on the spectrum.

 “As my too sons went into adulthood and we tried various things, all of which all ended up in failure, I said wait a minute, maybe we can do something different and have partnerships with employers and create opportunities not only for our boys, but for others and the success that we’ve had blows my mind," Newman said. 

While their jobs with Shutterfly, Inc. are only through the holidays, Jaden says he’s making the most of the experience.

“The best part of my day is coming in with a good smile, a good attitude, making sure you have good work," he said. 

"It’s definitely a win/win for both of us and we’re looking forward to expanding it and hopefully bringing additional on staff to help out.," Steinmetz said. 

“I think we’re just starting something very special," Newman said. 

Newman says he plans to expand the program to other large companies. He also says he'd eventually like to expand to places like Mecklenburg County, where there is a large community of young people with autism who could benefit from similar services.