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State names new ombudsman for individuals with developmental disabilities

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New Jersey has named a new ombudsman to help state residents with developmental disabilities.

Former Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn was appointed to the position. He will now represent people with developmental disabilities like autism and their families to help identify resources that are still needed for them.

Jonah Zimiles owns Words bookstore in Maplewood. He has a 22-year-old son who has autism and also employs people with disabilities at his bookstore. He says that it is important to provide independence for some of these adults who have developmental issues.

“It’s very stressful when the child is diagnosed and then it gets quite stressful as one turns 21 and ages out of the educational system,” Zimiles says.

Zimiles says that some of the resources these individuals need include job training, recreational activities and housing.

“There’s a tremendous problem in terms of housing because the parents are not going to live forever and there’s still a huge waiting list,” Zimiles says. “There’s been improvements on it, but there’s a huge waiting list to get residential placements.”

Words bookstore has a focus on skills training for people with all disabilities, including those who are nonverbal. Those individuals may be given the job of sticking price tags on the books.

“It’s the same as with a typical employee because you find out that people like to do one thing more than another or are better at one thing than another,” says Words autism training coordinator Lisa Matalon.

Words employees say that they are encouraging other businesses to hire special-needs workers so that they may start to become more independent.

“It’s the same job training you would do with a typical student, so they shouldn’t be afraid that it’s extra work,” Matalon says.

The Murphy administration says that Aronsohn has already begun meeting with families.

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