As part of its clinical mission, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division (NYP/WD) cares for patients so they are prepared to return to their home communities to lead productive lives. To successfully achieve this, patients are given the necessary tools to be able to work and live. In keeping with this mission, NYP/WD was pleased when approached by New York Collaborates for Autism to participate in a high school to employment transition program for young adults with autism spectrum disorder called Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism (PSCA). PSCA was created by New York Collaborates for Autism in partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH), ARC of Westchester and Southern Westchester BOCES (SW BOCES). Now in its third year on our campus, we have discovered that employees gain as much from this partnership as the interns.
With our numerous clinical and non-clinical departments, NYP/WD is an ideal location to host this training program and expose interns to many different work environments so that they can explore a variety of career paths. The student interns are evaluated for their independent employment and skills. Once determined, they receive classroom training from Southern Westchester BOCES, and job coaches from ARC of Westchester work with them on expectations, rules, and skills of a work environment. When the interns arrive at the job site, they receive additional practical, area-specific training. Interns work in departments as varied as Pharmacy, Lab Services, Building Services, Plant Operations, Paint shop, Storeroom, Upholstery shop, Grounds and Landscaping, and Food and Nutrition. These are valuable and diverse opportunities for our interns, and they participate in 3 ten-week long rotations under the close supervision of our department directors and designated staff.
The focus of our interns’ work experience is on non-traditional jobs, which are not the easiest to perform, and are complex and systematic in nature. We strive to give them marketable skills. As such, our interns learn to perform tasks such as system updates, computer configuration, courier/delivery services, supply stocking, medication sorting, preparing labels for medication storage bins, inventory recording, taking lab orders, and creating lab/pharmacy packages. They are closely guided, coached and supervised by the department staff, in addition to the mentoring they receive from their classroom instructors and job coaches. They are also coached on building communication, teamwork and collaboration skills which are essential for future employment.
The benefits of having a Project SEARCH intern are quickly apparent. While each individual with autism is unique, our interns have proven to be task oriented, independent, highly motivated, punctual in attendance, and team players. They are eager to perform repetitive, step-by-step job responsibilities requiring time and patience that staff often finds tedious and time consuming. In addition, the interns are incredibly accurate when performing their assigned tasks. In their experience with the interns, staff noted the interns’ strong work ethic and desire to complete assigned duties.
While the program’s goal is to increase marketable skills for the interns, staff report receiving their own benefits from the program. Through meetings and surveys, participating managers and directors stress the value that individuals with autism bring to their department. Because of the individualized needs and concerns of each intern, staff needs to work as a team to make the internship successful, thereby resulting in greater collaboration amongst one another. In one department, the interns needed checklists to assist them through step-by-step tasks. Once staff saw how useful the checklists were for the interns, they are now used by the entire department, with the unexpected benefit of improved efficiency and accuracy.
By working in a real worksite, managers have identified areas where the interns need additional support. While the interns are able to accomplish the assigned tasks, their social skills are lacking and they hesitate to ask for help. Staff continues to work with the job coaches on these areas.
Through this program it has been clear that given the proper support, individuals with autism can succeed and become valued employees. According to one manager, “Once we fully understand the capabilities and unique needs of individuals with ASD, their passion, motivation and ability to work can truly blossom.”
“NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester provides inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services for children, adolescents, adults and the elderly. For more information, call 1-888-694-5700 or visit us at www.nyp.org/psychiatry.”