DRS In Action – Helping Autism Shine

“The most common job for someone on the (autism) spectrum is being unemployed and living on SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance),” says Tom Thomson. He speaks from experience. He lived and worked for years as a high functioning autistic man feeling he had not been given the chance to prove himself.

Despite having earned a GED, an AA degree, a grasp of the Mandarin Chinese language, an impressive memory of worldwide music composers and movements, and the ability to recognize nearly any bird species on earth by sight and sound, Tom could find only minimal employment.  In fact, for most of the past five years, this incredible, detail driven 37-year-old autistic man was stuck sweeping up popcorn part-time for barely minimum wage in a local theater and living with mom and dad.

Well, Tom has been given a chance, and life has started to change. Tom met an Employment Specialist named Valerie Gallegos at Loveland’s Disabled Resource Service (DRS), and she saw potential in him.

Tom began working with Valerie and she helped him create an independent living plan that would be a roadmap to achieving his life goals. Valerie truly understood Tom’s challenges and his interests and she worked with him to develop job placement, job development, and job interview skills.  Keying off of his talent as a wildlife photographer, she helped him move from cleaning the theater to working for the city as an Open Lands Bird Monitor, leading tours and tracking species populations.

In October, with new found self-confidence and experience, Tom applied for, and was offered, a job at Nordson Corporation’s Loveland facility. Nordson is a manufacturer of complex medical devices and component technologies. Tom is now a Production Assistant in the Clean Room’s Sorting station and his job is to do quality control.  Tom says, “Employment for me has been a way to show my specific skill set in attention to detail.  It’s a source of self-esteem.  It has been a way for me to connect with other people with similar backgrounds. And the products that we produce are essential to the medical community.”

Did DRS help you?  Simply put, “Valerie has been a tremendous advocate for me. Thanks to her, my quality of life has exponentially increased! Now that I have a good and dependable source of income (he just received a nice raise), we’re working on my ultimate goal of having my own place to call home.”

Tom’s goal was to be self-sufficient. He didn’t want to rely on the government and his parents for support. Now, with an organization that understands the challenges of people like him who have disabilities and with a counselor who truly is his advocate, Tom realizes independence is possible. He can almost taste it.


Do you have a Tom in your life? Do you know someone with a disability who clearly has value, but the culture doesn’t seem to see or recognize it?  Consider reaching out to DRS.

Disabled Resource Services (DRS) empowers individuals with all types of disabilities and all ages to achieve their maximum level of independence at home and in the community through setting and achieving goals, enhancing self-esteem, accessing resources, self-advocacy, peer support and education.

Do you want to help more people like Tom?  DRS welcomes your support.  Tom says, “if you want to donate, the money would highly impact the lives of people like me. It would go far. It would not be wasted.”  This is yet another detail Tom understands.

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