Van Hollen Congressional Office Fosters the “Unique Strengths” of Interns with Autism
Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic Candidate running for the U.S. Senate, has done an immense amount of work for the adult population with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Recently, Congressman Van Hollen has made the decision to hire adults on the spectrum as interns for his Congressional office. Madison House Autism Foundation is honored to discuss Congressman Van Hollen’s decision to hire adults with ASD as interns. The following article is based off of a Q&A with the Congressman.
The Van Hollen Congressional office has an open application process that hopes to reach all communities. The Van Hollen office also works closely with an organization that assists individuals with special needs to gain meaningful work experience. Congressman Van Hollen understands that the job search can be a difficult and stressful time for individuals on the spectrum, especially after they no longer qualify for benefits because of their age. By hiring adults on the spectrum as interns for his congressional office, he provides meaningful and competitive workforce experience that allows individuals on the spectrum to reach their full potential.
The interns who have ASD have pivotal roles for the Congressional office. The interns are tasked with responsibilities that are essential to the office’s ability to help constituents. They are generally the first point of contact for a constituent in need. The interns will also assist Congressman Van Hollen’s staff by facilitating contact with governmental agencies, drafting correspondence, as well as carrying out various research when needed. These roles carried out by the interns on the spectrum have allowed Van Hollen’s Congressional office to benefit greatly by the work and talent of each individual intern.
Both Van Hollen’s Congressional office and the interns on the spectrum have benefitted from this employment opportunity. By working for Van Hollen’s Congressional office, these interns are able to gain valuable work experience and form meaningful relationships with their fellow staff members. Individuals with ASD contribute unique experiences. These particular interns and the experiences they have been able to share have helped to transform Congressman Van Hollen’s staff along with his constituents. Congressman Van Hollen can personally attest to the fact that individuals on the spectrum have their own special talents and abilities that can truly have a positive impact on others.
Based on Congressman Van Hollen’s first-hand experience working with adults on the spectrum, he has a piece of advice for future employers who decide to hire adults with ASD:
It is important for everyone to recognize that having special needs does not and should not stop individuals from learning and working toward their goals. Every person has unique strengths. It is vital that employers harness and foster those strengths to help every employee build confidence and the skills they need to succeed. – Congressman Chris Van Hollen
Below is our Q&A with Congressman Van Hollen where he discusses his experience hiring and working with individuals on the autism spectrum:
What made you want to start hiring interns with ASD?
It can be difficult for individuals on the spectrum to navigate a challenging job market, especially after they no longer qualify for certain services because of their age. Internships in my Congressional office provide a meaningful and competitive workforce experience that helps individuals reach their full potential, and my office has benefited greatly from their work and talents.
What roles do they have? What are the daily jobs they perform?
Our interns are tasked with responsibilities that are absolutely essential to our office’s ability to help my constituents. They are often the first point of contact a constituent in need has with our office, and they assist my staff by facilitating contact with governmental agencies, drafting correspondence, and doing research.
Have you seen any benefits of them working for the office?
Yes – both for the office and for the individual with ASD. Individuals on the spectrum bring unique experiences to the table that help transform the people they work with, including my staff and constituents. The individuals with ASD are able to gain valuable work experience and form meaningful relationships with fellow staff.
What was the process of hiring interns on the spectrum? How did you recruit these individuals?
We have an open application process and work to reach out to all communities. We also work with an organization that helps individuals with special needs obtain meaningful work experience.
What do you think is the most important information for future employers to know when hiring adults with ASD?
It is important for everyone to recognize that having special needs does not and should not stop individuals from learning and working toward their goals. Every person has unique strengths. It is vital that employers harness and foster those strengths to help every employee build confidence and the skills they need to succeed.
What can people learn by working with individuals on the spectrum?
Every person brings their own talents and abilities to the workplace, and everyone is able to contribute in a way that makes a positive impact on others.
About the Author
Molly Sullivan, Research Intern
Originally from Dover, Massachusetts, Molly Sullivan is a psychology and human development student at the University of Maryland. As the 2015 community service chairman of Delta Delta Delta, Molly planned community service events with Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN), a nonprofit organization that allows children and young adults with physical or developmental disabilities participate in recreational activities. Molly’s goal is to get her MSW and work with kids or young adults who have developmental disabilities. At Madison House, Molly is a research intern writing a three-part series about life after high school for students on the spectrum.