Students With Autism Launch CNC Machining Careers After Graduating From The Uniquely Abled Academy (UAA)

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(SANTA CLARITA, CA) On the afternoon of April 8, ten students with autism graduated from the Uniquely Abled Academy (UAA), a program which teaches young adults with high functioning autism to be entry-level CNC machinists. Within the first 2 weeks after graduating, 8 out of 10 students were extended job offers.

These statistics provide a welcome change to the status quo for young adults with developmental disabilities transitioning into the workforce. According to the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute research reports, nearly 42% of all young adults on the autism spectrum never worked for pay during their early 20s. Of those who did work, jobs were typically in low-wage and part-time positions. The Uniquely Abled Academy aims to turn these statistics around for young adults on the autism spectrum in the Santa Clarita area.

The Uniquely Abled Academy (UAA) is an initiative by the Uniquely Abled Project (UAP) in partnership with the College of the Canyons and Jay Nolan Community Services, Inc., a local provider of support services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The 13-week program teaches high-functioning autistic adults how to operate a computer numerical control machine, better known as a CNC machine.

Additionally, students learn machining skills including blueprinting, safety, using manual mills, lathes, and more. These valuable technical skills qualify graduates for full-time entry-level jobs that manufacturers are scrambling to fill. “Our graduates get hired to fulfill a business need. They are hired for their skills,” commented Karen Navarro, Program Coordinator of UAA and Manager of Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) Services at Jay Nolan Community Services, Inc.

The program focuses on students’ ‘unique abilities’ rather than their disabilities. The specialization in CNC machining complements common traits of autistic people including attention to detail, ability to work independently, and hyperfocus on detail.  Upon graduating, students have the training they need to pursue careers in the machining industry.

“The training they get is not simplified at all. It is the same program as the regular CNC machining course,” says Navarro. Any extra support is focused on soft skills, including getting the students used to the fast-paced work environment and long work hours. Navarro’s primary role is to make sure graduates find the right fit and that the companies know how to work with people with autism. Everything else is up to the candidates.

“There is no secret to job development for people with disabilities,” Navarro explains. “It’s as simple as treating people with respect and dignity; acknowledging that they are people that have skills they bring to the table, and that they deserve a career.”

UAA was incredibly excited to hold the graduation ceremony for the candidates for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous cohort, which began in February 2020, had to be cut short due to the regulations resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. Four of those students returned to graduate this year.

The Uniquely Abled Academy is looking to expand the program in the coming years, including the possibility of offering more trainings sessions each year. So far, the program accommodates one cohort of students per year. To learn more about UAA, visit their website at

Since 1975, Jay Nolan Community Services has enabled individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disabilities to live fulfilling lives as members of the community by providing support services customized to their individual needs.


  1. The Uniquely Abled Project: Specialized training and placement in the manufacturing industry., accessed 25 April, 2022.
  2. Drexel University Life Course Outcomes Research Program: Employment Outcomes Of Young Adults On The Autism Spectrum., accessed 25 April, 2022.
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