Tiegerman High School

Marla Diamond/WCBS 880

Queens School Fashions Retail Learning Center To Help Students With Autism Enter Workforce

April 26, 2018 - 6:00 am

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- During this Autism Awareness Month, WCBS reporter Marla Diamond has been looking at the challenges adults with autism face as they try to enter the workforce.

Approximately 500,000 people with autism are expected to enter adulthood in the next 10 years. A recent report found 85 percent of college graduates with autism are unemployed.

A school in Queens is looking to change that.

The basement of Tiegerman High School in Richmond Hills has been transformed into a fully-functional retail store that offers students with autism and other disabilities the opportunity to learn the skills to help them gain internships and jobs. The school serves 150 students with a variety of developmental disabilities. More than half are on the autism spectrum.

Calvin Klein was the first company to jump on board in 2011 when they heard founder Dr. Ellen Morris Tiegerman was looking to expand the school's vocational offerings and was followed a few years later by Tommy Hilfiger and most recently by Global Brands shoes.

"They really guided us in helping us to create a store that looked as similar to stores out in the real world," said her son, Dr. Jeremy Teigerman, who is the school's director.

The cash register, for instance, is one that you would see at the Tommy Hilfiger outlet.

The students wait on customers, man the register and maintain the stores according to the retailers' guidelines. They are open on select days to the public.

"It's good because I get the full experience of the stores and the atmosphere," said student Peter Anderson. "I talk to customers, I show them to their fitting rooms."

Toya Davis, a board member whose son was in the first graduating class at Tiegerman, said the students are very capable.

"What we found is that those students that are given a chance they're the best workers," Davis said.

Students with special needs age out of the school system at 21.

"And no one's there, there's no safety net for them, they are falling off the cliff," Davis said.

Tiegerman Community Services is in the process of creating a retail learning center for adults at its Glen Cove campus.

"We believe strongly in it. Many of them are not gonna be going on to college so making them as work-ready as possible for a very very competitive workworld out there is imperative," said Tiegerman.

But it's not all work and no play.

On the day Diamond visited the school, the students put on a fashion show in the cafeteria, modeling their favorite clothes from the brands.