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Autistic business owners capitalize on strengths

NEW YORK - A growing movement to find work for autistic people is helping some start their own businesses.

Work requiring an attention to detail and with repetitive tasks is ideal for an autistic person who wants to start a business, says Gregg Ireland, co-founder of Extraordinary Ventures, a Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based organization that creates jobs for the autistic. Ireland's son Vinnie, who is autistic, has a business doing yard work and landscaping.

One in 68 people have some form of autism, according to government figures. It is diagnosed more often in males than in females. There are different degrees of autism; many people have trouble communicating, comprehending spoken or written words and interacting with others. In the most severe cases, autistic people cannot speak or interact with others, are unable to learn and need lifetime care.

People with the mildest forms of autism are able to attend mainstream schools including college. Many do well at jobs that focus on details. They may struggle in jobs that require them to have continual contact with co-workers or the public.

More autistic people can become business owners if they're allowed to develop interests that can be turned into a living, says Temple Grandin, one of the best-known advocates for people with autism. Diagnosed with autism when she was 4, she has a business designing systems to handle livestock. She became interested in animals working on a farm in her teens.

Advocacy groups are looking for ways to create business opportunities for autistic people. The Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, based in Phoenix, helps autistic people start home-based food businesses. And Autism Speaks has held town hall meetings to introduce autistic people to the idea of starting companies.

"Within the next decade 500,000 individuals on the autism spectrum will transition to adulthood. It's critical that the necessary supports are in place so that they can obtain meaningful employment," said Lisa Goring, executive vice president of programs and services at Autism Speaks. "Our goal is to create job opportunities for people on the spectrum by educating businesses about their capabilities."

The organization has offices in Los Angeles, New York and Princeton, New Jersey.

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