Everyone deserves a fair shot to be happy and successful. Sure, we each have our own definitions of success, but it usually involves having a purpose aside from sitting at home all day watching TV or playing video games. This need is just as prevalent for people who are differently-abled.
Services end for teenagers on the spectrum at age 21. Along with lacking the services they’ve been reliant on for many years, they are faced with another huge question mark.
What do they do now?
For people interested in attending college, there are many universities in the US with programs for students on the spectrum and who have been diagnosed with other developmental disabilities. You can read more about those here.
What about those who don’t have earning a degree in their future? Many differently-abled people would rather begin working, or living on their own, but don’t have the resources or know where to start.
According to a 2015 study by the Kessler Foundation, one of the biggest barriers to employment for Americans with disabilities includes few job or career training opportunities. Unfortunately, not every community has these resources available to the people who need them most.
For the areas with accessible resources, there are centers offering different types of training courses to help prepare young adults on the spectrum for the next steps in life. Some of the services include:
- Etiquette/Communication with others
- Problem solving
- Finance management
- Relationship building
- Resume building
- Interview skills
- Independent living skills
Chief Program Officer, Christine Hernandez, of Sherwood Autism Center (located in Kansas City, MO) said their mission is to empower children and adults with autism and related disabilities to maximize their potential in family and community life. They do this for adults through two programs: a Day Program and an Employment and Community Options (ECO) Program. Both programs incorporate an Individual Support Plan (ISP) for each enrollee that determines the services to be provided as well as individual goals to guide their programming. These are similar to an IEP from more traditional education plans.
The Day Program at Sherwood Autism Center enables participants to develop independence and to maximize their relationships in the community. The activities included in this program are life skills training such as laundry and cooking, creative expression through art and music, physical fitness, socialization, and volunteerism.
The ECO Program immerses participants in natural settings within the Kansas City Community to learn prevocational skills. While the Day Program is not a required pre-requisite to entering the ECO Program, all but one individual has participated in the Day Program. The ECO program participants have worked with Wayside Waifs, Mother’s Refuge, Junior Achievement, and Restore KC among other non-profit organizations.
Before placing the ECO group into the field, Sherwood Autism Center staff talks with each individual about the organization and the type of work they will be expected to complete. The foundational skills of staying on task, following directions, and staying with the group are reviewed with them prior to placement. Individuals are placed with organizations where their training can be customized to meet goals, strengths, and interests outlined in their ISP.
When onsite, Program participants assist the organizations with tasks such as sorting and organizing clothing, moving furniture in warehouses, stocking shelves, doing laundry, writing receipts to customers, and preparing organizational materials or mailings.
One participant, Jesse Anderson, 23, has been in the ECO Program for a year and a half. During that time, he has volunteered with Catholic Charities, Wayside Waifs, Junior Achievement and Restore KC. Prior to his participation, Jesse was very shy. He would often avoid speaking to strangers.
Through his time in the program, Jesse has developed tremendous leadership skills and is eager to help his peers. His behaviors and his stutter have both improved and he initiates conversations with people around him.
Jesse’s story is just one of many showing the positive impact of Sherwood Autism Center’s adult programs. These programs have been very successful, and with the completion of a planned expansion there will be room for 150 more adults.