For years, Jeff avoided revealing to people that he has autism.
“I don’t want to be using that as a sympathy card,” the 30-year-old California artist says in an exclusive clip of A&E’s The Employables.
The new series follows job seekers with conditions such as autism or Tourette syndrome as they meet with specialists to work through obstacles and find fulfilling employment.
In the exclusive clip, Jeff, from San Jose, meets with Dr. James McPartland and confronts his fears of disclosing his autism to potential employers. Jeff tells PEOPLE that he learned to accept his condition and believe that others will accept him as well.
“Working with the specialist really helped my confidence by helping me realize how much being on the spectrum can be a positive asset as opposed to a potential liability,” he says. “That’s something I’m utterly grateful for.”
Jeff now works as a freelance storyboard artist with Four Winds Creative in San Jose. The experience has helped boost his confidence and even improved his art.
“A big part of what pushed me to document my journey was that I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid mentioning being on the spectrum because I didn’t want to play the sympathy card,” he shares. “By going out and documenting everything, maybe I could see a bigger part of the picture. Maybe they’ll see there’s something extra to this guy.”
About one in 59 people are found to have autism spectrum disorder, which is categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a developmental disability that can cause “significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” Despite the stigma of autism, many on the spectrum live successful, happy lives.
For Jeff, the series was ultimately a game-changer — and not just in the workplace.
“The most difficult part of the process was definitely coming to terms with my disability because it was something that I’ve avoided all my life,” he tells PEOPLE. “The best part is that once I was able to come to terms with my disability. I was able to see how what was once a hindrance is actually something that can be used positively.”
The Employables premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m.
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