Project SEARCH helps young adults with autism find jobs

Published: Jun. 4, 2014 at 10:23 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2014 at 7:36 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Some high school seniors with autism are on their way to landing their first jobs thanks to a program that gives them hands-on job training. Research shows job training is making a major difference in helping young adults with autism enter the workforce.

It's graduation time for the students who just completed nine months of interning at Bon Secours' St. Francis Medical Center in Midlothian and St. Mary's Hospital in Richmond, through Project SEARCH.

Said intern Gary Clark, "What I learned is about not getting angry and being on time. While I'm working so hard, I'm so awesome cleaning up. I'm just so good at it."

Explained Project SEARCH Instructor Jim Kiefer, "Students do three 10-12 week internships and they're fully embedded amongst the co-workers in the department. They might work in environmental services, to surgical services, to imaging."

The interns learn skills to perform specific jobs, and skills to do well at any job, such as how to take public transportation to work, how to ask for help, and how to accept constructive criticism.

"I like it because I get to cooperate with my coworkers," said intern Jonta Parham.

A VCU study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found 87% of young adults with autism who received job training found work in competitive employment situations. Only 6% did without job training.

The advantage of Project SEARCH is not only that the interns learn job skills but their supervisors can assess what their best skills are, and help them find jobs utilizing those specific skills.

Intern Kaitlyn Redding just started her first job at a local dog kennel. "I'm working with animals and cleaning out the kennels," she told us.

Others interns have job interviews soon. And they're all setting their goals, like Gary Clark.

"What I'm going after is a truck and those DVD's and the Smurfs, season one and season nine," Clark said.

Goals and dreams these students can now reach.

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