Carefully, Jon Liniak sifts through ground coco beans. It's delicate work. Perfect for a boy with autism.
"Already he's very engaged, he's very interested, he's happy about it, he's proud of it," said the boy’s father, Tom Liniak.
Jon interns at Spagnvola, a premium chocolate shop in Gaithersburg. He struggles with social skills, but it seems that working is already helping him along.
"Seeing the same people, it's a very consistent staff, and being able to make those social connections and being able to reach out and learn that aspect too is very, very important to him and very meaningful,” Tom said.
“When I see Jon, joy just comes to my heart. That's all I can say,” said owner Eric Reid.
Autism can cost up to $3.2 million in care over a lifetime. Jon's parents Tom and Natalie Liniak worry about the future. They hope by developing skills early, Jon will have a better shot at employment.
"We try to turn the worry that we're gonna have no matter what into what can we do now and continuing to try to provide support,” said Tom Liniak.
Autism affects about one in 110 children nationwide. And the unemployment rate among Americans with disabilities is much higher than the national average. But Liniak says it's not just about preparing for the workforce. He sees it as an opportunity for research.
Togther, Reid and Liniak hope to broaden the internship, preparing more and more disabled people for careers.
"These individuals all they're looking for is an opportunity. And when you give them an opportunity, they'll surprise you," Reid said.
Jon says he has already found his opportunity.
"I want to work here. I am going to work at Spagnvola," Jon Liniak said.