New Phoenix center helps employ people with autism, other developmental disabilities

Nearly half of 25-year-olds on the autism spectrum have never held a paying job, according to statistics from Autism Speaks. But experts say that is by no means their fault.

The issue today is that many employers today simply are not equipped to appropriately train and support those on the autism spectrum.

Here in the Valley, that's all changing.

Being precise is a skill useful in many job settings. For some, it may take a great deal of effort, but for others, it just comes naturally.

Students are enrolled in the Precisionists' Innovation and Technology Center in Phoenix, which just opened up its newest location here a few months ago. 

Here, students can learn the tools needed to pursue a career in cyber security, processing, and data engineering, among other occupations.

These students are especially adept in these types of fields, and they all have one thing in common: a developmental disability like autism. CEO Ernest Dianatasis founded The Precisionists, or TPI, back in 2018 and so far has trained and hired more than 10,000 people on the spectrum. 

"Like every parent, the first thing that goes through their heads is what's gonna happen when our child is an adult, and how are they gonna live a life of independence and dignity," said Dianastasis. "We are not only giving them the technical skills to do the job that we're hiring them for, but we are also teaching them life skills, how to work teams, make presentations."

Those skills come into play once these recruits are hired on at different branches across the country.

Here in Phoenix, Ian Mamone works as a record management specialist. Ian has Asperger's syndrome, a type of high functioning autism.

"I really like computers, I think it's fun," Mamone said. "I want a job as a software developer and security analyst, and I think my job at TPI will help with that." 

Ian has already helped test an app for SRP, and he says that working with a team on that project has helped him to become more confident. 

"It's helped me a lot and one of the ways is communication with coworkers," Mamone said.

John Bonifas, another recent hire, works as a contractor and data engineer. John explains that years ago, he left a different job to go back to school because at the time he didn't feel there was enough support in the workforce for someone with a disability.

"They are just there to do their job, not there to support or to help one succeed," Bonifas said. "So it was a real concern."

TPI was a godsend, according to John.

"It really saved me. When I was working for the previous employer, I had to handle things like office politics, unreasonable deadlines alone," said Bonifas. "I was probably 50% less functional than I am now, and it was really, really stressful."

That's not to say that his current job doesn't have its stressors. During the pandemic, some of the employees had to work from home, which can be difficult for those on the spectrum dependent on this job for socialization.

However, Ernest Dianatasis says they did their best to get these employees back in the office, as soon as possible -while doing so in a safe manner. Throughout the pandemic, they managed not to lay off any of these employees.

In fact, over the last year, the company grew by 20%.

"I think without COVID we would've grown by 70%, 80% so don't get me wrong, it's had an impact - but I take it as a win that we are actually growing and able to preserve and protect these jobs," Dianastasis said.

Ernest says success in this business is not about being profitable in the financial sense. It's about giving back and providing opportunities for those eager to learn, like Ian and John, who also just happen to have a knack for precision.

"We are truly getting them workplace ready for a career, and it is transformative," Dianastasis said.

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