Kevin Gibson has two jobs, and recently saved up enough money to purchase his own home and live independently.
Such an accomplishment is admirable for any man his age, but for Gibson, 26, of Fairfax it is even more impressive.
That is because Gibson is autistic, and his parents were told he would need lifelong care and never be able to live alone.
According to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of autism in the U.S. has increased 78 percent since 2002. The CDC, which compiled statistics from 14 nationwide centers, now says the condition affects one in every 88 children, compared to the one in 156 figure reported a decade ago.
The CDC classifies the condition as a pervasive developmental disorder that can interfere with a person's ability to communicate with — and relate to — others. The report attributes the increased numbers to better awareness and earlier detection because of improving diagnostics.
“Kevin was diagnosed with autism at 18 months,” said his mother, Mary Lou Nugent, 57, also of Fairfax. “Between 12 months and 18 months his vocabulary was huge and he could identify things, but he could not converse and communicate with his words. He could not speak in sentences. His cognitive skills were off. When he was 3, doctors told us that he might never be able to live without constant supervision.”
Nugent said she wasn’t about to let that happen.
“It was probably the best thing that could have happened, because it really made me dig in my heels,” she said.
When Gibson began approaching school age, Nugent —who works at Oakton High School as an administrative assistant — said she took him to a Fairfax County Public Schools program for children in need of special education or related services, called Childfind.
“Through Childfind, Kevin was found to be eligible for special services and he then entered the Fairfax County Public Schools preschool program,” she said.
Gibson recalls his school years with fondness, but said it was not always easy for him.
“I first realized I was different from other kids when I was in elementary school,” he said. “It was hard sometimes because my autism makes it tough for me to chat with people, and I didn’t always know how I was doing. That really hasn’t changed. I sometimes still don’t know what decisions to make, and I worry about what to do sometimes, but my family has always helped me when I’ve needed help.”
After high school, Gibson got a part-time job delivering inter-office mail at Booz Allen Hamilton, but they were unable to offer him a full-time position. He later obtained another part-time position at a local supermarket.
But what he really wanted was a full-time job.
Gibson began utilizing the services of locally-based ServiceSource, which matches disabled jobseekers with community businesses, government entities and nonprofit organizations.
The company began in Fairfax in 1971, and employs nearly 2,000 individuals with disabilities annually. Today its corporate headquarters are in Alexandria.
“ServiceSource is the industry leader in terms of finding employment for people with disabilities,” said Evan Jones of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which contracts with ServiceSource to provide its services to local residences and businesses.
Gibson’s job coach at ServiceSource helped him apply for jobs, practice understanding social cues and nonverbal communications, and prepare with mock interviews to help coach him through the process.
In 2008, he got what he always wanted, a full-time position with benefits at Fairfax-based law firm, MG-IP. There, Gibson handles thousands of patent law files, keeping them well-organized.
“The firm is better off with Kevin here” because “he takes pride in his work, is well-organized and provides a great contribution to the firm,” said partner Martin Geissler. “He can find a file within seconds that would take me or anyone else much, much longer to locate.”
According to Geissler, Gibson receives full benefits including a 401k, and gets annual salary raises. Gibson also has kept his part-time job at a local Safeway, where he still works Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
With his savings, he just purchased a condominium that is walking distance from both his jobs and his parents’ home.
“He really is an amazing kid,” Geissler said. “Our firm has many international clients and Kevin is actually learning how to speak some foreign languages, such as Japanese, to be able to speak to them.”
For Gibson, it’s nothing new.
“I have always worked hard to be able to communicate better,” he said. “Learning Japanese is just another way of improving my ability to communicate with others.”