Living with Tourette Syndrome (TS) isn’t easy at any age, but it’s especially tough for a child—something Ian Webster knows all too well, as he was diagnosed with TS when he was just five years old. At the time, he couldn’t have known that, one day, finding an employer that supported neurodiversity in the workplace would be crucial to achieving his dreams.

Also called chronic motor and vocal tic disorder, Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary “tics”—sudden vocalizations and movements. People who have it are often misunderstood and frequently viewed as rude or disruptive. Sometimes perceived this way by his classmates, Ian struggled through elementary, middle, and high school, and then into community college.

“Sometimes, it made it hard to keep going,” Ian said.

So hard, in fact, that Ian left college after a year, opting to work as a window cleaner for his mother’s business. While he liked that work, he wanted more independence. He also wanted all the things that come with employment at a large organization, including a better salary, medical benefits, and room for growth.

“I had a goal to work at the state someday,” he said. 

Realizing that he would need more employment experience under his belt to get there, the 22-year-old reached out to PRIDE Industries, a social enterprise with a mission to create employment for people with disabilities and experienced at supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.

Accommodating Neurodiversity in the Workplace

At PRIDE Industries, Ian was paired with Caryl Balko, a job developer, and Tameka Rich, then the Rehabilitation Services Supervisor. The two showed Ian what support for neurodiversity in the workplace looks like. They began by assisting Ian with employment preparation, including a two-week trial position as a dishwasher at a senior care facility. While he worked there, he underwent an assessment to determine his skills and strengths.

“His assessment went so well,” said Caryl. “His motivation and work ethic were admirable. Even though he was young, he was one of the hardest workers we’d seen.”

Both Caryl and Tameka recognized that Ian was also gifted with a friendly, personable nature and a great sense of humor. Unfortunately, soon after starting his trial position, Ian experienced some personal life changes that required him to leave the workforce. But by then he’d made an impression on the PRIDE Industries team, and they asked him to return when he was able.

Back on the Path

Six years later, in 2019, after gaining more job experience as a part-time packager with UPS, Ian did just that. He’d held onto his goal—full time employment with a large organization that could, eventually, ready him for a state job. He was also as eager and personable as ever. Once more at PRIDE Industries, he worked with Tameka, who reinitiated the employment preparation process. Three months later, he was placed in a custodial position at the Sacramento Metropolitan Airport—where he began on the graveyard shift.

“I was glad to get my foot in the door,” said Ian.

He thrived in his position, eventually moving to the much busier day shift, which allowed him to work more independently and get the type of experience he needed to move forward in his career.

“I loved the environment and my supervisors and shift leads,” he said.

They loved Ian, too. So did Caryl and Tameka, who observed in him the same work ethic and great attitude he’d exhibited years before.

“We saw him really come into himself and grow in confidence at the airport,” said Tameka.

2019 and 2020 found Ian thriving in his position.  As much as he enjoyed working at the airport, however, his ultimate goal was still to secure a job with the State of California.

Later in 2020, he reached his goal, gaining a custodial position with California’s General Services Administration.

Arriving at Home Ownership

Though Ian worked only 16 months as a PRIDE Industries employee, that time had a huge impact on his life. First, he saw that neurodiversity in the workplace can and should be normalized. Second, he realized that he had what it took to excel at work and become financially self-sufficient.

“PRIDE Industries was the first steady full-time job I ever had,” he said. “It allowed me to become more independent.”

Tameka and Caryl couldn’t be happier for him.

“PRIDE Industries was a steppingstone for Ian,” said Tameka. “Great for him and great for us.”

A steppingstone, indeed, along a path that now includes home ownership.

“I pay my own mortgage now,” Ian said.

From part-time job to full-time, independent employment, Ian has come a long way. You could say that his journey has led him, literally, home.

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