Opening Doors: SARRC’s Employment Services team supports Air Force veteran in paving new path after diagnosis

Read how SARRC’s Employment Services program is guiding adults with the skills needed to build independent lives

Lindsay Palson’s journey to an autism diagnosis happened a little later in life compared to many of her peers in SARRC’s Employment Services program. The Mesa woman already had eight years of U.S. Air Force service under her belt, as well as several college courses, yet she struggled with a constant lingering feeling that something in her life just wasn’t clicking.

“I remember a few years ago someone mentioning to me about displaying something that was an autistic trait. They quickly brushed it off, saying ‘oh no, someone would have caught that by now,’” Palson recalls.

So she brushed the notion off, too. Until a year ago, when she was watching a comedy special by Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, who herself was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as an adult.

“She talks about her own diagnosis and how autism can present differently in women and how it might get overlooked. I had never felt more seen in my life,” says Palson, now 32.

After years of struggling with her mental health and feeling like a constant outsider, Palson sought an evaluation in 2020 and was diagnosed. Suddenly a lot of questions she had for most of her life, like why her brain seemed to work differently or why she preferred less social environments, began to make sense. 

Palson’s diagnosis was a vital first step down a new path, one that she hoped might lead her toward a more fulfilling career. That’s when she turned to SARRC. 

Getting to Work

“I came to SARRC with this idea that I am not broken or wrong, and that someone might be able to guide me to the life I want,” Palson says. “I came to
SARRC with a new hope.”

She also came to SARRC for help during the height of a worldwide pandemic, which meant while she was looking for guidance as she rethought her life 
goals and purpose, SARRC’s team was rethinking how it could reach people who needed that coaching in an environment that limited face-to-face interactions. Thanks to innovative telemedicine technology, however, the clinical team was able to pivot, and for people like Lindsay Palson, the virtual environment has been a blessing.

“We learned that virtual sessions and a telemedicine approach can be quite successful for some individuals,” says Dr. Paige Raetz, director of SARRC’s Teen and Adult Services. “We were able to continue to support individuals on their goals toward greater independence and employment through virtual platforms. We even successfully ran our group-based programs for teens, allowing teens to continue to connect and gain confidence and skills in social interactions and early employment.”

For many, the virtual approach eliminated barriers that might have prevented them from accessing SARRC services, Raetz adds. The convenience was a huge plus for Palson as she worked with job and skills coaches to zero in on her passions and interests. Through the virtual platform, Palson was able to brush up her resume and navigate the federal Ticket to Work program, eventually finding what she believes is the perfect fit for her future.

She had gone into the military in honor of her grandfather’s Army service, following in his footsteps, and had found her niche in medical work.

Through her conversations with SARRC staff, she says she was able to pinpoint a future career that she’s confident pulls together her skills and work environment preferences. She is now taking classes toward a degree in medical coding.

“SARRC really empowered me to do things on my own,” she says. 

No Path Is the Same

The transition into adulthood is a pivotal time, and SARRC aims to support individuals with autism through that journey with a variety of services to fit
every person looking for guidance, no matter their age.

“We have several innovative programs to support teens and adults, and each one looks to address the critical skills related to transition,” Raetz says.
From CommunityWorks®, a program to support early employment skills for teens, to services that work on key skills in the areas of independence building and self-advocacy, SARRC aims to target the social, organizational and functional skills necessary for independence. Every approach is tailored to the individual’s needs and driven by the science of behavior analysis.

“We all want similar things in our lives as we move toward adulthood, things like greater independence, a supportive community, friends, a job we enjoy,” Raetz says. “At SARRC, the programs and services we provide are all focused on helping individuals achieve those outcomes.”

For Palson, being able to match her passions with her goals has been a bright light at the end of a very long path. She lives with her sister, who she also cares for, which has put a special emphasis on her need for self-sufficiency. But thanks to all she’s learned through SARRC, Palson says she is confident she will meet every goal she sets for herself. She has the added assurance that a willing ear will always be nearby when she needs it, too.

“It means so much to have someone understand what you’re going through and why your brain works the way it does,” Palson says. “Just having SARRC there to listen to what you have to say — it seems so easy for someone to do, but really ... it means so much.

About Ticket to Work

Ticket to Work is a federal program under the Social Security Administration that connect adults ages 18 to 64 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance and/ or Supplemental Security Income benefits with free employment services. Participants receive services such as career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and job placement and training free of charge.

SARRC’s Employment Services program is an authorized Ticket to Work service provider. In addition to helping eligible adults find a career path that is right for them, SARRC also provides qualified participants with continuing support services to help them keep their job and increase their earnings over time. 

MORE INFO: 866.968.7842 or choosework.ssa.gov

Story by Ginger Scott 
Photos by Stephen G. Dreiseszun/Viewpoint Photographers