Art program develops career skills for developmentally challenged

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HUNTINGTON -

A program is helping developmentally challenged people move out of school and into the workplace.

James Young, who has autism, earned his diploma but struggled to find a career path that would lead to a job.

"For a while I felt like an outsider, like an outcast in school," says Young.

Autism Speaks says an estimated 500,000 teens will enter adulthood over the next decade. More than half of those adults will never find a career or get hired.

But through a program called ArtWORKS, Young has been able to take his artistic skills and use them effectively. He attended marketing and advertising art classes at the Spirit of Huntington Art Center on the way to learning to become a digital designer.

Eric Preis, an artist who is on the autism spectrum, started the art center a decade ago.

"They are not just learning art, they are learning social skills," says Preis.

Michael Kitakis, a veteran in the world of advertising and design, has a son who started with ArtWORKS. Now, his nonprofit advertising firm employs many of the program's students.

"The therapeutic opportunity to express yourself is great, but actually getting paid for that is amazing," says Kitakis.

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