Job opportunities increase for those on the Autism spectrum in Houston area

HOUSTON – At Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Katy, sweet scoops are being served up daily with plenty of smiles.

“Working here at Howdy is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” said Trey Brandt, who works at Howdy Homemade Ice Cream.

What makes the Howdy experience so unique from other ice cream shops is mentioned in the sign in front of the business as you enter the brightly lit and fun place. Most of the staff are special needs, including those living with autism.

Brandon Todd, who also works at Howdy Homemade Ice Cream explained, “I have never worked in an ice cream place before and I gave it a try and I loved it.”

Friends Roderick Batson and Houston rapper Trae Tha Truth, who has a child with special needs, are co-owners of the shop.

“It’s a fun experience, but at the same time, you’re preparing them for the future. Because you can’t box anybody in,” Trae Tha Truth said. “They deserve to blossom just like everybody else.”

“You know the population of special-needs is huge, but the job opportunities for them are very scarce across the globe so Trae and I decided to tap into that statistic,” Batson said.

On the other side of town at Gallery Furniture on the north side, Houston hero Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, recently launched a job training program to help those with special needs, including autism.

“We all draw some much of self-worth from work, work is where our friends are, where we develop,” Mattress Mack said. “We’re looking to help these people. They’re helping us more than we’re helping them.”

Each week, a few dozen taking part in the program come to get hands-on training and some even land an actual job there or other places.

Ray Chappa, who’s taking part in the program said, “We’re here to practice to learn how to get jobs. We’re trying to learn how to mop, sweep, and try to help organize items.”

“Lot of them would like to have their own independence, to be treated just like everybody else on the workforce,” said Tanya Phillips, a job coach teacher.

According to Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism advocacy organization, opportunities like these aren’t necessarily around as much as they’re needed.

“This is more than just a paycheck. Having a job, having a career gives someone purpose,” said Dave Kearon, the Autism Speaks director of adult services.

Still, as more companies embrace the idea, they’re hoping those living with autism will be given more opportunities in the future.

“I think it also tells others that this is doable. It’s not something so difficult,” Kearon said.

For Mattress Mack, it’s all about helping the community in any way possible.

“It’s really important to me that to let people who, have what we’d consider a problem, turn that problem into an asset,” Mattress Mack said.

And over at Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Katy, it’s much of the same.

Making sure everyone has a fair shot, while also making our community a better place.

“I think this should be normalized a lot more, I think everybody should have the opportunity and if they’re able to do it then they qualify just as well as anybody else,” Trae Tha Truth said.

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Galveston-born, award-winning journalist, dog owner, foodie & occasional golfer.