For many on the autistic spectrum, finding gainful employment remains a serious challenge. Fortunately, many major organizations, including giants like Microsoft, appreciate the unique skills of individuals with autism in fields such as science, engineering, computing, and mathematics, and have made efforts to promote inclusive hiring.
A smaller business that has followed this approach is SpectroDolce Confectionary, a Pittsburgh confectionary shop that sells everything from gourmet fudge and chocolate-covered pretzels to hand-dipped ice cream and milkshakes. The shop (which opened on October 4) is unique in that all six of its employees are on the autism spectrum.
One of those employees is Dan Hackett, who loves his job so much he spends two hours commuting every day through public transit.
“I look forward to coming to work every day,” Hackett said, according to a report by Next Pittsburgh.com. “Prior to this, the landscape was bleak. There’s not a lot of opportunities for people on the autism spectrum to finding meaningful employment. The jobs that you can find are — I don’t want to say demeaning — but they’re lower-level than what people on the spectrum are capable of.”
SpectroDolce is part of the Autism Employment Network of Progress City, a Pittsburgh-based human resources consulting organization founded in 2018 by Bryan Kiger, to address the autism unemployment crisis. Kiger partnered with Brian Kluchorsky, of the non-profit organization Youth Advocacy Programs, to tackle the issue head-on.
“For adults with autism, they hit age 21 and services and supports dry up,” Kluchurosky said. “A lot of hope diminishes. Parents think, ‘What’s going to happen to my kid when I’m not around?’”
The goal of Progress City is to educate employers about autism and match them with skilled individuals. As noted by Next Pittsburgh, SpectroDolce serves as a training ground for adults with autism 21 and over, providing valuable feedback and real-life work experience.
“This is not a charity,” Kiger said. “We’re a for-profit business. This is a real job where they get critical feedback and respond to it.”
The store initially opened in 2017 as the retail location for candy manufacturer Park Street Treats. SpectroDolce took over the space after Kiger approached PST owner Bill
Dapper in September with the idea to create SpectroDolce.
Ultimately, Kiger and Kluchorsky hope to create a positive gathering place both for people with autism, and the broader community as a whole.