Hospital Program Teaches Workforce Skills to Autistic Students

Young adults with Autism have always faced difficulties in trying to enter the job market. Employers have had a history of focusing on perceived weaknesses of individuals with ASD, rather than considering the strengths and the value that these young adults could bring to their company. Recently, several large organizations have implemented programs to help Autistic adults transition into the workforce and be employed in positions that cater to their strengths. In addition, programs are being introduced at schools, centers, and hospitals, to teach students how to work and behave in professional settings.

While Autism treatment is often focused on young children, more attention is being given to the needs of young adults. Research shows that more than half of young Autistic adults did not attend college or gain employment in the two years that followed their graduation from high school. With the growing diagnosis rate of Autism in the United States, this is a huge wake up call for businesses and schools to introduce more programs that create opportunities for individuals with ASD to succeed after high school.

The Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Virginia has collaborated with Virginia Commonwealth University to help young adults with Autism transition into the working world through Project SEARCH, which trains those with ASD in various hospital jobs. Jason Bathurst, a young man in his senior year of high school, has learned a lot from the program. He has crafted a resume and a PowerPoint presentation about himself and his skills. Jason learned how to stock supplies, transport patients by wheelchair, and make deliveries around the hospital.

Jason Bathurst on duty at the medical center.
(photo: Vicki Cronis-Nohe/The Virginian-Pilot)

Jason states, “I don’t do any medical stuff”, he continues, “but I like that I get to work with the patients. They need someone to talk to, and they need someone to give them supplies. That’s what I would want if I were in their shoes.” Not only do the students learn how to interact with others, such as making eye contact and being helpful and friendly to patients, but they also learn on-the-job skills, such as what to do in the event of an emergency and how to contact your employer if you are arriving late or calling in sick.

VCU partnered with the medical center over 5 years ago to train students with Autism to help them potentially enter employment opportunities in the medical field. Eighty-seven percent of young adults who have been trained at the hospital have landed entry-level medical jobs after graduation, compared to 6% of a control group who did not receive the training. Based on that success, the university received a $2.5 million grant last year from a federal disability agency to expand the project.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing the Global Autism Workforce Initiative on June 30th  in NYC. Speakers include Dr. Peter Gerhardt, President of Peter Gerhardt Associates, LLC, and Founding Chair of the Scientific Council for the Organization for Autism Research. Dr. Gerhardt will be discussing the transition from high school to work. To hear Dr. Gerhardt speak, please select tickets here.  Early bird ticket specials are still available, so now is the best time to register! This is an Autism conference you will not want to miss!

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