BALTIMORE — Approximately 50,000 youth with autism transition each year to adulthood and only half of them continue with formal education or enter the workforce after high school.
Clifton Crawford III used to be included in that number. At 28, he has never had a job and has never had his own money— that is until Towson University’s Hussman Center for Adults with Autism broke the mold and offered him employment.
When he arrived at the Hussman Center, Crawford enrolled in fitness classes designed especially for adults with autism. That’s where he found a passion!
Not only did he become a regular in the Wellness Center fitness gym, he also thrived by volunteering to set up, break down and clean equipment for exercise classes.
This year, Wellness Center interim director Dr. Ray Stinar thought Crawford should be paid for his hard work.
Crawford’s special needs required TU’s HR department to work with some out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, but they were up to the challenge, Stinar said.
Finally, Crawford received a payday.
The Hussman Center for Adults with Autism at Towson counts as one of just a few facilities in the country that specialize in the needs of adults with autism. The center addresses the development of social, workforce and independent living skills.
“I discovered that Clifton had been volunteering at the center once a week, helping Tiffany Harrison, the current leader of the autism fitness program, set up for classes and cleaning equipment for the past several years,” Stinar said.
“I felt if we could develop a part-time job for him, this could be a very positive force in his ability to have a meaningful day. As a result, through our foundation account at the Wellness Center, I could contribute, allowing us to fund his part time position,” Stinar said, noting that Crawford now works three days a week part-time and, at age 28, has his first paid job.
Harrison says she came to know Crawford in 2012 because he stood out as a strong leader always willing to help. In 2014, she selected Crawford as a Wellness Center volunteer.
“He takes his role and responsibilities seriously, always acting with compassion and thoughtfulness. He’s motivated is truly curious and enjoys others,” she said.
The check represented a special moment for the Clifton and his mother, Chicquita Crawford— particularly as many recognize the month of April as National Autism Awareness Month.
“I like helping others and I like listening to certain music as I work, when possible, and throughout other activities to help gain more energy,” Clifton Crawford said.
“Everyone seemed so proud. I just like helping others out. I told my mother that she had enough excitement for the both of us,” he said, adding that his first paycheck really was no big deal.
Crawford works cleaning exercise equipment, showing students correct exercise forms and assisting individuals by adjusting weights. He is also responsible for washing, drying and folding laundry and cleaning the lint trap of the dryer machine.
His mother couldn’t be prouder. “As a mom, I find that I have extremely mixed emotions with everything, depending on the day and time,” Chicquita MB Crawford said. “It is exciting, rewarding, challenging, time consuming and even nerve racking, at times; as I am constantly concerned about him. Both of us find ourselves addressing mixed emotions as we move forward in life; tying to better understand each other and accepting each other’s challenges and successes as we work very hard preparing him for the world ahead. It is a team effort.”
When others acknowledge her tenacity and dedication toward supporting her son with autism in living a fulfilling and purposeful life, she stands firm in her acknowledgment of God’s infinite plan.
“Children are a gift from God,” she said. “We should be blessed to have them. Those parents selected to parent special needs children are the truly special ones. Besides, at least I know what my child is doing and where he is 99.9 percent of the time. I’m truly blessed.”