Example of Structured Community Work Opportunities for Individuals with Classic Autism
Jacobi a young man with autism, deceptively verbal and from the Puget Sound area. As with many young men with autism, his adolescent-teen years were difficult for him and his family. After much deliberation, the family and case manager sought placement in one of Washington State’s Residential Habilitation Centers (RHC) at the age of 15. During Jacobi’s years living at the RHC, he was staffed at a 2:1 ratio, had a habilitation plan that required him to where a helmet to protect him from self-injuries behaviors and be separated from other residents for most of his activities of daily living. Jacobi attended an alternative high school for students who resided at the RHC on the grounds of a local public high school. While at school, Jacobi’s staff supports continued to be at a 2:1 ratio. It was while he was in high school that he had exposure to community employment by volunteering at a local food bank.
During Jacobi’s high school experience, Monica and staff of M Meyer Consulting, Inc. were employed to train school educational assistants on communication strategies and visual work-systems. The educational assistants were trained at his work site with scattered success. Jacobi’s Habilitation team recommended that these communication support strategies not be generalize to any other domain of his life because it did not follow the “risk-assessment” plan that was in place at the RHC. After high school Jacobi received employment services through a community sheltered workshop. Although he was enrolled in their Community Employment Program, Jacobi spent most of his time with the job coach on the grounds of the RHC inspecting bathrooms (a favored activity).
Fast forward a couple years and the RHC where Jacobi lived closed per the WA Legislature. Jacobi moved into the community and his family interviewed a local Employment Agency to start the process of finding him a paid job through the Roads to Community Employment Project. The Employment Agency Jacobi and his family chose was an agency that M Meyer Consulting provided Autism Technical Assistance to. This agency also had accepted three other individuals who moved into the community from the RHC. To meet this employment agency’s training needs, we collaborated with a local food bank and garden nursery. Our strategy was to help the local non-profit agency develop functional processes that would help the flow and function of the business using LEAN Manufacturing Principles. Within in the process, visual communication supports and work systems were put in place to support the volunteer workers with autism in six different work stations. Once these supports were in place, the employment specialist/job coach came in and learned the process themselves (without their customer). The next step was to introduce the worker with autism to the work environment. The worker was exposed to all six workstations over a four-week period of time. Within the four-week time frame, each worker and job coach learned a lot about each other; relationship development, communication supports, socialization strategies, consistent work product and quality, motivation supports, as well as the hierarchical task analysis of work set up, completion, increased stamina, clean up and transition. Jacobi excelled at all of his tasks. Jacobi’s favored tasks included repurposing hanging flower baskets, sanitizing flower pots to plant seedlings in, watering nursery stock and landscape, mixing soil components together to develop the nursery’s potting mix, to name a few.
Within the four-weeks, the job coach “Discovered” Jacobi’s likes, interests, support strategies that communicated the expectations of the employer while providing Jacobi with a selection of tasks that he identified he would like to do for paid employment. In addition, we identified the settings for an ideal job; conditions, preferences and contributions.
We were able to identify the conditions for employment to include:
· Working outside
· Ability to move around (a sitting job would not work)
· Weather was not an issue if he had appropriate clothing or water to drink
· Work with men (although his job coach was female)
· Have a male “boss” to report to at work
· Instruction through visual supports, less talking
· Redirect Jacobi by telling him what to do, rather than correcting him with what not to do (does not like the word no)
· Needs to know in visual format how long he will be working on a certain task; number of items or time spent
· Have the opportunity to select from a list of motivating items, his motivating task at the end of his work day (paychecks are great, but did not give Jacobi the immediate response he needed to work for after completion of his work day).
Contributions Jacobi will bring to an employer:
· Is a perfectionist at his work;
· Likes to complete tasks that he starts;
· Likes to know that he is helping others;
As part of the Discovery process and Person Centered Planning, we learned of Jacobi’s fascination with RVs. In fact, going to local RV shows was a favorite pastime of Jacobi and his family. So with what we learned through the job coach training and Jacobi’s Discovery was to customize a job in and around RVs. With pictures of Jacobi working, detailed list of skills and interests and support comments of Jacobi’s work ethics, I put together a visual profile and presented it to a local RV Retail Center. After a tour of the RV Center, I presented the owner and manager a proposal with Jacobi’s profile for their consideration of a customized job. Jacobi was hired nearly 2 years ago as an RV detailer. He trims the silicone drips from the seams of the RV that come from the manufacture, washes the exterior of the RVs, touches up any scratches or mars on the wheels, hitch tongue and steps with black paint and attaches the RV Centers license plate advertisement.
Jacobi enjoys his work. He has clothing that adapts to every weather condition, some his employer paid for and others that were purchased through DVR. In addition to clothing, the employer purchased tools that Jacobi needed to do his job. For instance, a bucket on wheels that Jacobi could pull around with him, rather than having to go back and pick the bucket up, a soft brush attachment to the hose so Jacobi only needed one tool to wash and rinse with.
Jacobi is happy with his job, his employer and most importantly…the ability to check out the size of the RV bathroom at the end of his work day, because that makes his day!