See more of the story

As a child, Ian Little Cloud was so quiet that his mother had to lean in to hear him talk. Once, when he cut his finger playing, he just watched the blood pour down his arm without crying, his mother recalls.

“I was really scared because I didn’t know how he would get through life without talking,” said Irene Little Cloud, of Minneapolis.

Her son struggled with learning disabilities and, after graduating from high school, was placed in a sheltered workshop in Minneapolis, where he spent hours each day shredding stacks of paper behind a metal fence.

Had it not been for an intervention by the state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program, Little Cloud likely would have stayed there, largely hidden from the broader community.

In January, counselors with the VR program, whose mission is integrating young people with disabilities into the workforce, paid a visit to his family’s north Minneapolis apartment. There they discovered Little Cloud’s love of cars. He had two shopping bags full of old Matchbox vehicles and posters of muscle cars on his bedroom wall. He could quote entire lines from the “Fast and Furious” car racing movies.

“We were picking up clues just by hanging around Ian, and we decided to pursue them,” said Josh Dean, who develops customized employment for VR clients.

This spring, they began taking Little Cloud, 24, on a tour of Twin Cities mechanic shops, auto dealerships and salvage yards, searching for a possible job fit. On a recent visit to a St. Paul shop, his face came alive as he scrubbed down cars and carefully lowered a vehicle with a hydraulic lift. As he worked, two job counselors pitched the owner on Little Cloud’s skills, including his strength and ability to handle tools and machines.

While no one has hired Little Cloud, the job counselors have built an extensive “visual résumé” with photographs showing a determined Little Cloud in a variety of tasks, communicating in images what he cannot say in words. “I just want Ian to broaden his horizons,” his mother said, “because he has so much to offer the world.”