On August 29, an Easthampton, Massachusetts special-needs school is launching one of the country’s only automotive programs for autistic youth.
Tri-county schools director Paul Rilla says students on the autism spectrum often have behavioral, emotional, and cognitive challenges that make it hard for them to get jobs. And many public vocational schools won’t take them. That’s why he’soffering these students training in a profession for which he says they’re well suited: auto-repair and detailing. Rilla says it wasn’t easy to get the school’s board to approve the program — given the cost and difficulty of setting up a special needs classroom that meets state standards… within an auto-repair shop.
“We think the biggest challenge in the beginning is having kids feel safe in the environment,” Rilla said. “They’re gonna be using tools that, for the most part, most people wouldn’t think they probably should be using.”
Rilla got the idea for the automotive school from John Robison, a best-selling Amherst author who writes and blogs about having Asperger’s syndrome … and who owns a high-end car repair service. Robison is donating space in his shop for the automotive school, where he’ll be an advisor. Nine students from tri-county schools are signed up so far.