Cleveland Clinic Autism Professional Education Program
CLEVELAND – Almost half of people with autism aged 25 have never had a paid job, according to Autism Speaks.
But research shows that jobs that encourage independence can help reduce symptoms of autism.
A Cleveland Clinic program aims to prepare students with autism for the job market.
Five days a week, Jack Cummings is at work.
“I need help,” he told his coach.
The 15-year-old loves going to work at the Cleveland Clinic and his coach is there every step of the way.
Its main duties are to collect and deliver mail and research material to physicians at the Heart Institute.
âHe does phenomenal things. He loves it, âsaid Courtney Gebura.
She is the transition coordinator of the Lerner School for Autism.
He scours the large main campus to make sure the right person is getting the right mail. He also takes care of some office work.
âI think Jack is really enjoying this routine and knowing that he’s doing something that matters to him and that it’s good for the department he works for,â Gebura said.
He started the unpaid internship in September as part of the vocational training program at the Lerner School for Autism.
âHe has to communicate. He has to work on his soft skills to say sorry if he walks by someone, rides in an elevator,â Gebura said. “He’s definitely made giant strides and I know his parents are really proud of his progress.”
Jack has been dating Lerner since he was a silent four-year-old.
âWhen he arrived, I know he had problems with language and also with eating behavior. So these are things that you know watch Jack grow over the years and as he gets older and becomes that young adult, âGebura said.
The training provides real-world work experience for students with autism.
The program has approximately 20 students, including Jack, who currently work at nine different community employment sites, both on and off the Cleveland Clinic campus.
âIt’s more or less about giving students that authentic experience of what it means to be in a job, the responsibilities,â Gebura said.
Gebura said the program has grown a lot since its launch 16 years ago.
In some cases, business partners hire students after the internship.
“It is so important for our students to be on the job and learn these skills so that they can keep them and then either get a job after graduation or generalize these skills to a different environment,” Gebura said.
It helps teens and young adults identify their career goals and interests while developing their skills so they are ready to join the workforce after graduation.
“To give them, once again, that goal and to be able to have a structure and a place where they feel they belong,” said Gebura.
Cleveland Clinic officials said after school about 50% of young adults with autism do not work for pay, and those who do tend to work in low-paying part-time positions.
Work experience has been shown to be the single most important predictor of post-high school career success for students with disabilities and that’s what this program aims to provide, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
âIt is so important for families to know the capabilities of their child and to know that he is capable of it,â she said.