In January, 2014 The Wiley Center received a $5000.00 grant to provide our 3rd annual Prevocational Social Skills Training program to teens and young adults with ASD. This grant enabled us to include 6 new participants who joined our previous group of 8 young men. Our unique program focuses on the social skills needed to obtain and retain employment and includes an 8 week internship opportunity. Our comprehensive curriculum addresses 4 core clusters; vocational, social, daily living, and personal development skills.
All of our training was put to the test in the “real” world when 8 of our 3rd year participants embarked upon an opportunity of a lifetime with a month long, 15 hours per week, job shadow program at a major corporation in downtown Los Angeles. This “unplanned” opportunity was the turning point for many of our young men as they were challenged to incorporate and generalize all of the information and skills previously acquired to a corporate environment. This was a first for us and a first for the corporation which had never hosted a group of job shadow students with ASD.
Our young men gained valuable experience and exposure to various aspects of corporate operations such as guest services, talent management, IT, and business services. Every day they dressed for success and looked forward to going to work. They were quite impressive and described by corporate execs as well mannered, respectful, attentive, inquisitive, and genuinely interested in learning. I beamed with pride as I heard their comments!
The 4 week program went quickly and culminated in a graduation ceremony and luncheon that was attended by the corporation’s chief officers and staff as well as parents and several of our board members. Each of the boys had an opportunity to speak about the job shadow experience and what it meant to them. Each confidently and eloquently shared their feelings of gratitude to the staff, their parents, and to our Center for always being there for them. Many of the boys started with us when they were toddlers.
Consistent with our earlier findings at the end of our summer program we were amazed at their growth and development particularly in self esteem, confidence, responsibility, and their life’s vision. The boys have also developed a solid bond with each other and regularly engage in fun activities on the weekend. They are “real” friends and refer to each other as “brothers.”
We also asked each job shadow coach to complete an evaluation of each student with whom they worked. The feedback was all very positive. Most notable were the comments in relation to how the experience had changed their personal attitudes and awareness of ASD. One described the young men as inspirational, another stated that working with them was the highlight of the summer. Yet another commented on their readiness to work and attention to detail which was viewed as a plus. All unanimously agreed that they could see the boys as potential job hires for their company. This was golden and the take away for me was huge!
Their success in this endeavor affirms my belief in the need for targeted social skills training across the lifespan especially since social skills challenges are pervasive and a hallmark feature of this disorder. It also affirms my belief that as practitioners we should use research to inform our decisions but not constrict or limit our thinking. Given proper training, support, encouragement, and the opportunities to embark on new situations, children with ASD will continue to teach us of their infinite potential!
The corporation has committed to host our students in 2016 and we are excited to take a new group of students. To see a 3 minute video of their rewarding summer experience go to www.thewileycenter.org/prevocational-training-program/.