In the fall of 2006, Job Path launched Life-Coaching for Young Adults with High-Functioning Autism. The program finds innovative ways to help individuals with high-functioning autism, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, reach their potential through college attendance, work, volunteer positions and meaningful community activities. The Life-Coaching team offers young adults intensive life planning and assistance to define their goals and develop plans of action. Support is based on the specific needs of each individual.
We were inundated with prospective candidates for the project and had the difficult task of initially selecting ten young people. Now, more than two years into the project we are working with eighteen people – a diverse, accomplished group whose efforts to find their way in the world are complicated by autism. They have strong cognitive abilities, but haven’t found outlets for their talents.
The Life-Coaching process begins with an exploration and planning phase in which people consider their total life circumstances and goals, a process they are finding exciting and empowering. The individuals have pretty keen insights into their own lives.
But the best way to understand how the project works is to look at the progress being made by individual members of the group.
On the Winning Team
Anthony, a 23-year-old who lives in Chinatown in New York City with his mother, enjoys school and sports equally. As a college student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Anthony dives into his school work, whether writing an essay on the Giants’ celebratory parade in Manhattan for English class, or learning how to read text with a critical eye in “Academic and Critical Reading.”
While Anthony can talk about his dreams and goals, he sometimes needs help from the Life-Coaching team to make sure he achieves them. Anthony’s support workers help him develop social skills both in and out of the classroom, while also making sure that he writes his assignments down and has a full understanding of his homework and class requirements.
On top of his academic achievements, Anthony is a skilled floor hockey player who plays center position for his Special Olympics team. Currently, Anthony has a paid clerical internship, funded through OMRDD, at AHRC’s day habilitation program where he does office work two mornings a week. Anthony also swims at the local YMCA and, in his limited free time, is a singer in the Peace of Heart choir.
In the spring of 2006, Wendela graduated from a special needs high school. The plan was for her to attend a structured residential pre-vocational/college program in Long Island the summer after graduation. Wendela began the program, but after several months, staff recommended that she leave because she was overwhelmed at being away from home and the social demands of school. Wendela retreated into her room at home and rarely left the house.
In the fall of 2006, Wendela began working with a Job Path Life Coach who helped her establish OMRDD eligibility. The Life Coach worked slowly and carefully with Wendela, who was initially reluctant to engage in any activities, to help her figure out her next steps. They visited a number of community colleges, looking at class offerings and requirements. They talked about finding a volunteer job that would help get Wendela out of the house. Within six months, she was volunteering for a small theatre arts organization, first going with the Life Coach and eventually going by herself. In the fall of 2007, Wendela enrolled in Empire State College, taking one course without credit. By spring she was taking a course for credit, and now she is taking two courses a semester working toward her associate’s degree. Wendela decided she did not want mentors accompanying her to class but needed their support to encourage her to work through assignments.
Wendela now works two days a week at Job Path – paid for through an OMRDD funded internship – learning a range of clerical and data entry skills and developing social skills in the process. At each step, her Life Coaches have gently encouraged her to take the next step.
Jon is a recent high school graduate and passionate collector of miniature fantasy figures. He is also a savvy seller on eBay, where he auctions items from his collection to make room for new additions. Consistent with his Asperger’s diagnosis, Jon had a narrow interest in pursuing these fantasy figures. Working with him required taking into account this preoccupation. We helped Jon look for ways to leverage his hobby into a paid position while trying to make more meaningful social and community connections. The Life-Coaching team worked with Jon, contacting gaming stores in New York about possible employment opportunities. Jon landed a job handling all aspects of eBay sales for one of New York’s top gaming stores – from listing items to communicating with buyers to shipping merchandise. Jon worked with his coach, who helped him understand the social dynamics of the workplace, while assisting him with the technical side of the job. Jon has become a master with a tape gun! Jon worked at the store part-time for two years until recently when the store closed during the economic downturn. Currently, a Job Path Employment Specialist is following up on some promising leads at comic book stores that have shown an interest in hiring Jon for inventory and sales. Jon has also been exploring Goth culture while working on social skills and moving out into the community with the help of a Life Coach familiar with the world of Goth.
Finding His Place
“It honestly feels weird to finally be on a path of MY choosing,” says Evan, a Life-Coaching participant. After struggling for years to find a place where he could further his education in his chosen field of graphic design, Evan has found the perfect environment at the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.
Job Path works with the faculty at the Advertising Design and Graphic Arts Department to ensure that Evan receives the support required for his success. This assistance has included finding internship opportunities for Evan, extra coaching and guidance in choosing courses and software. A Life-Coaching mentor attends classes with Evan and helps him navigate different aspects of college life. Evan says of the experience, “I think this is cool. As a differently-abled student, it is amazing to be accepted and valued.”
Evan’s mother Harriet says, “Job Path’s Life-Coaching program has been transformative for Evan. Evan has a career goal, a stronger identity of himself as an artist and a growing sense of confidence and self-satisfaction.” During rare down time, Evan and his mentors visit galleries and museums.
The driving mission in Evan’s life is to develop his already prodigious art skills. Job Path linked him up with Pure Vision Arts studio in Manhattan, where Evan has had the opportunity to work in a variety of media and to showcase his work in their gallery. He also takes brush classes in the Japanese style of Sumi art, to which he is particularly drawn. In summing up his current life, Evan explains, “For the first time, I’m with people who just get it. Job Path has turned me into an artistic creation.”
We anticipate the Life Coaching project will be able to sustain itself on government funding by the end of 2010. We expect to expand into a full-scale project with ongoing enrollment of at least 30 adults. As individuals gain independence, we will be able to reduce their level of support and counseling and add new people, creating the individualized supports that allow them to participate in community and educational activities. Currently, four of our eighteen participants have paid jobs, three are in internships and seven are attending college or other classes. We agree with the assessment of one of our participants who summed up his life over the last 24 months in Life-Coaching by declaring: “Outstanding!”