New York Collaborates for Autism (NYCA) creates comprehensive, evidence-based community services to support people living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) right now. In 2011, NYCA turned its attention toward creating employment opportunities for young adults with ASD. As part of its research into adult life, NYCA traveled the country searching for the most promising programs and found Project SEARCH, a unique transition to employment program created by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which provides training and real-life work experience to help youth with significant intellectual disabilities.
With the support of Project SEARCH, NYCA launched Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism (PSCA) in partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, ARC of Westchester, Southern Westchester BOCES (SW BOCES) and Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR). PSCA uses an autism specific curriculum that was created by NYCA in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Center for Autism and the Developing Brain in White Plains. The PSCA curriculum is made up of five central components including student internships, peer mentoring, family involvement, a Business Advisory Council and employment planning. As a whole, the curriculum helps students with ASD learn more than the skills of a job. Specifically, the curriculum focuses on helping the students with ASD learn the “soft skills” needed to succeed in a work environment. By understanding that the expectations and culture of a work environment are very different from a school environment, these students will more successfully transition from their last year of high school into meaningful employment. Students participate in three internship rotations with the host employer, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and are supported by a team that includes their family, a special education teacher from SW BOCES and a job coach from ARC of Westchester. What started as a pilot program is now in its third academic year.
Kyle Siczewicz, a member of the 2013 graduating class, credits PSCA with helping him discover what skills he excelled at and most enjoyed. “The students are schooled in the very vital skills of resume writing, interviewing, presenting themselves at work, ‘water cooler’ talk, and appropriate social behavior in an office setting,” reports Kyle’s mother. After his successful completion of the PSCA program, Kyle used these skills to get a job at Jackson Lewis, a prominent law firm located in White Plains, NY.
Kyle quickly became a vital member of the Jackson Lewis team. He first learned to work with new software for electronic filing and used his organizational skills to sort and maintain physical files to aid in the efficiency of the office. Over the past several months, Kyle has been given more responsibility within the office and continues to learn new skills that he will be able to apply to future jobs.
In addition to the work within the law firm, Kyle’s employment has allowed him to become more independent on a daily basis. Kyle now commutes by himself to work on the train and uses his own hard earned money to purchase his tickets, something his mother Ellen used to do with him every day. According to Kyle, “I like how I’ve become more independent, I like how I’m getting more involved in the world, and I absolutely enjoy having the opportunity to do things more on my own.” Kyle’s mother sees the immense benefits that employment has had in Kyle’s life. She reports that, “Working at the law firm has given purpose to Kyle’s daily life; a routine and structure that we all need to feel that we are contributing.”
The PSCA program empowers people with ASD to acquire competitive, transferable and marketable job skills, as well as to gain increased independence, confidence and self-esteem. Kyle and his mother credit PSCA with his successful transition from high school to employment. Kyle explains, “To be honest, I can say that it was a real improvement on my life. Prior to PSCA, I did not feel as involved in the world as much. Once I joined, I was able to expand [my capabilities].”
Ellen is hopeful and confident that her son’s intelligence and determination will change the way people view individuals with ASD. She states, “What I am really hoping for now is that other people, whether it is his co-workers, the train conductor, or the staff at the coffee shop, see him and other people with ASD differently. Or maybe as just the same.” She explains, “As parents of ASD children, we learn very quickly which programs are of value, and PSCA is one of them.”
To learn more about NEXT for AUTISM or Project SEARCH, please visit https://www.nextforautism.org or call 212-759-3775.