Four employees on autism spectrum at Boca Raton Publix store demonstrate ability to work

BOCA RATON, Fla - Brett Williams and Celine Zambrano are bagging groceries.

At another counter, Ayla Hourigan is putting bags in a grocery cart. "Hi, how are you doing?" she asks a customer.  "Did you find everything OK?"

Patrick Archer is getting ready to help a customer carry their groceries to their car.

All of them work at a Publix in Boca Raton, and they're all on the autism spectrum.

The youngest is 14-year-old Ayla, who is enjoying earning paychecks. "I like it because it's teaching me how to finance my money, how to spend it, how to save it," she said.

The oldest is 42-year-old Patrick, who's been working at Publix for 17 years. "It's really good," he said. "I've been meeting a lot of people in this community  and everybody knows me around the community."

Their jobs range from sweeping floors to carrying out groceries. "I bag and I get the carts and put them inside," said Celine.

For teens and adults on the autism spectrum, obtaining a job can be difficult.  It's sometimes hard convincing employers they can do the job.  At Publix they're provided with training and job coaching, that's available to other employees.

"The feedback we get are that these associates with special needs are so dedicated to their job. It's provided them with an outlet. It provides them a means of socialization. It gives them an opportunity to understand things outside of school," said Nicole Krauss, a spokeswoman for Publix.

These workers are on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum.  They benefit from not only a paycheck, but the opportunity to interact with others and improve their social skills.

The advocates for those on the autism spectrum are hoping other employers will see the benefits they bring in getting the job done.

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