TIPS Serves Adults with Autism

tips-167Serving others is obviously important to members of the Triangle Indian-American Physicians Society (TIPS); they are, after all, in health care. But serving outside of their chosen careers is also important to them. For years, members have volunteered their efforts and expertise at free clinics all around the Triangle and at a yearly free screening.

 

Three years ago, TIPS wanted to give back to the local community in a different way. They worked with friends and local business leaders to research charities and decided the Autism Society of North Carolina had the kind of impact they were seeking.

 

“ASNC has been the leader in helping not only families but adults with autism. Some of the success stories of adults being able to be a functioning part of our society really hits close to home,” a TIPS board statement said. “We as health-care providers are always trying to make a positive impact on patients, and we feel ASNC also is doing the same for people living with autism in our state.”

 

Several TIPS members have loved ones with autism and others frequently work closely with patients with autism as in their health-care practices. In addition, ASNC has supported multiple adults with autism who have gained meaningful employment at one member’s local Raleigh pharmacy.

 

TIPS has held three events to benefit ASNC: two golf tournaments and a gala with live and silent auctions. These events raised close to $100,000 to benefit ASNC’s Employment Supports department, which enables adults with autism to become contributing members of society and feel a part of the communities in which they live.

 

The events also brought in hundreds of attendees, raising awareness of autism in the community, a success that the TIPS board notes is immeasurable.

 

tips-133Kristy White, Chief Development Officer, praised the dedication and time that the members of TIPS put into their events to give adults with autism full and meaningful lives. “I think it is so remarkable what they give on a daily basis through their work, and then to do this for us in their spare time. They spend every moment making a difference in each and every life.”

 

We are grateful for the partnership of TIPS and excited to see its future!

 

The TIPS board stated, “We hope to continue to raise awareness about autism professionally as well as socially in the surrounding communities, and hope to keep hosting these great events to raise the much-needed funds to keep this program running and helping empower adults with autism.”

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Supported Employment Brings Fulfillment

2014-11-07-adamricci-003-terry-hamletEditor’s note: This article previously appeared in ASNC’s Spectrum magazine.

David Roth’s parents never have to wake him up in the morning or push him to get out the door on time for his job. The 27-year-old with autism works at the Courtyard in Chapel Hill, mostly in the fast-paced, physically demanding laundry, but he is always happy to go.

“He loves to work. He absolutely loves it,” said his mother, Susan Roth.

David started working at the hotel when he was still in high school. It was a volunteer position, facilitated through East Chapel Hill High School, where the young man was having some behavioral issues when he was made to do things he did not want to do. “He was absolutely the happiest when he was out in the community and especially when he was at his job,” Susan said.

Now, almost a decade later, David holds a paying position at the Courtyard along with two other part-time jobs, with the support of an employment supports instructor from the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC). His mother says the jobs have helped him learn how to interact with other people, provided the consistent schedule that he needs, and given him pride and a sense of accomplishment. They have even improved his reading skills because he is interested in reading about his job duties as opposed to school topics.

Lorraine La Pointe’s 25-year-old son with autism, Adam Ricci, also holds several part-time jobs. She says they have “opened up his circle”; when she is with him in the community, he always sees someone he knows. She also noticed that Adam has recently matured. “I think it really has changed him.”

Kathryn Lane, who is Adam’s employment supports instructor through ASNC, agrees, saying that Adam is calmer on the job than at other times. Having a job has also taught him responsibility as it requires him to be punctual, have clean, neat clothing, and manage his time as he completes tasks, she said.

“Seeing the progress is really rewarding for me,” Kathryn said. “The goal is to make him independent someday.”

For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), meaningful employment is a key part of a fulfilling life, but studies have shown that as many as eight out of 10 are unemployed or underemployed. David Ingram, ASNC Employment Supports Director, said that individuals with ASD improve their odds of obtaining integrated employment 400% through using job placement services from an organization such as ASNC while using Vocational Rehabilitation supports.

Businesses giving back

2014-11-07-adamricci-004From the employers’ viewpoint, providing job opportunities for individuals with autism is a win-win situation.

“The benefits that we have with David … it actually keeps us humble, grounded, and grateful,” said Lisa Giannini-White, the Director of Operations of Southpoint Animal Hospital in Durham, where David Roth works in the afternoons. “We thoroughly enjoy having David here.”

Terry Hamlet is President of S.H. Basnight and Sons, a small Hillsborough company that makes specialty hardware, doors, and frames. Terry said she and her employees benefit from working with Adam and another employee with autism. “I think that at the core of each person, they like the idea of doing something for other people. I think that in some way, that is happening here,” Terry said. “Hopefully they can feel good about the fact that they work for people who care enough about other people to give them an opportunity.”

Lisa said it was a part of Southpoint Animal Hospital’s original business plan to “offer opportunities to everybody.” Before David came to work for them, she did research about how to support individuals with autism and also consulted with his father about David in particular. When she talked to her employees about bringing David on, they were all for it, she said, and so she shared what she had learned.

Valued employees

But it’s not just about a feeling they are doing good; David is a valued employee, a consistent team player with great attention to detail, Lisa said. “He helps others see that well, gosh, I guess I could be more detailed, or I guess I could be a little bit of a harder worker.”

Alex Griffin also brings strong attention to detail to his position at the Center for Urban Affairs and Community Services (CUACS) at NC State University. Alex, a 30-year-old with high-functioning autism, does not need the assistance of an employment supports instructor, but he did participate in ASNC’s JobTIPS program, which emphasizes the development of social skills that are critical to identifying, applying for, securing, and maintaining employment. The group facilitator provides coaching and feedback for job interviews, encourages peer interaction, and helps members develop a broader community network.

Sheila Brown, Alex’s supervisor, said he does not really need supports at CUACS and performs well in a variety of duties. “He’s got a great attitude, and everything he’s done for us he’s done very well, very thoroughly,” she said. The reviews of assessments and testing that their work group do can be tedious and require a lot of attention, and Alex has found things they might have missed, she said. He also is very responsive to feedback and happy to do anything that is asked of him.

Alex said he would like all employers to know that “our value as employees isn’t overshadowed by the minor cost of accommodation.”

David Ingram said, “Individuals with disabilities, including ASD, experience less turnover than nondisabled individuals, allow access to numerous tax incentives, and return an average of $28.69 for each dollar invested in accommodations. Individuals with disabilities and their networks represent a $3 trillion market segment, and 87% of customers prefer to patronize businesses that hire employees with disabilities. I’m excited to see businesses starting to understand the value in hiring workers on the autism spectrum and contact us seeking support in placing someone with ASD with their corporation.”

Supporting the workers

2014-11-07-adamricci-007S.H. Basnight and Sons’ employees with autism are productive parts of the business because Terry matched tasks that the company needed to have done with their skills, just as she would with any employee, she said. Having patience and teaching how to complete tasks properly is necessary with any worker, she said. “There is no employee ever that is totally easy. The key is to work with people to help them do things correctly.”

“It’s very important for everybody – it’s important with our children, it’s important with our co-workers, it’s important in our businesses – when there is a weakness, to help that person develop that.”

Adam’s mother, Lorraine La Pointe, said Basnight has done an “amazing” job of supporting him. “They are just naturals. He operates on a visual schedule, and they have magnetic boards set up for his tasks. They are just on it.”

The visual task boards give Adam the opportunity to choose the order in which they will do the tasks for that day as well the independence to move from one task to another, Terry said. At Southpoint Animal Hospital, Lisa also set up visual supports for David, such as laminated sheets showing his duties in the restrooms.

Terry also said that employment supports instructors are a key to success for individuals with autism. With the job coaches supporting their clients well, there is more potential for growth in the job. Kathryn Lane, who has worked with Adam since July, said she has seen that; he has started recognizing more details at his job and times that tasks were not done correctly.

Part of the team

For employees without onsite support staff, many issues can be avoided with just a little research about autism and the employee in particular, said Sheila Brown, Alex Griffin’s supervisor at NC State. “We tend to have a stereotypical picture of what autism is, but it’s really more what autism is not,” she said. “Just be open, trying to make sure that the person is comfortable with what you’re asking them to do until they feel a comfort level with you and your staff.”

Adam feels very comfortable with his Basnight co-workers and Terry Hamlet; when he sees her in public, he greets her with a hug. She said they strive to make him a part of their team. Adam’s mother said they have gone a step further, including him in parties for holidays and birthdays; “they treat him like family.”

Terry says the effort was worth it.

“My life and the life of our company is richer for having had them here. I really believe that.”

For more information about Employment Supports, please go to www.autismsociety-nc.org/employmentsupports

Get to Know Joanna Bush, ASNC Bookstore Employee

Joanna Bush and Mary Collins

Mary Collins and Joanna Bush

Joanna Bush excels at spelling and math, and her organizational and clerical skills make her a valued employee of the Autism Society of North Carolina Bookstore. But the 31-year-old with autism brings something else to her several part-time jobs: a chance to educate the people around her.

“It creates more acceptance for someone like Joanna, and really anybody else who has autism, when people come across them,” said her mother, Charlene Bush.

Joanna, who was diagnosed with autism at age 7, has memorized some sentences that she speaks aloud and can use small utterances, her mother said. Joanna also communicates through writing. “When she goes into a workplace where people don’t typically see a lot of people with autism, they’re amazed by the fact that she could do what she could do given that she has this pretty big deficit with expressive language and so many issues with sensory management,” her mother said.

For Joanna, the ASNC Bookstore is a perfect place to use her strengths in a calm, quiet setting. “She really enjoys doing it, and she feels very competent. It obviously promotes self-confidence, which is so important,” Charlene said.

Joanna’s aide, Mary Collins, agrees that working in the bookstore gives Joanna “a tremendous feeling of worth.” Mary, a habilitation technician, has worked with Joanna for a little over a year and spends two days a week with her.

Joanna has worked at the bookstore since early 2010, fulfilling many duties: packing orders to be shipped, shelving books in the correct order, pulling materials for events, pricing, shredding, dusting, tidying, and copying. “She knows where everything belongs,” Mary said. “Sometimes if I forget something, she’ll remind me.”

Kate Hall, director of operations for ASNC, said, “The Autism Society of North Carolina Bookstore is unique in that it lives out our mission to provide support and promote opportunities through employing individuals with ASD. Our bookstore staff, like Joanna, gain job skills and independence. Joanna’s contributions are vital to the bookstore, and she is a joy to work with.”

Joanna also uses the media machine for postage and marks on a large map all the locations to which the bookstore has shipped. “She loves doing that map,” Mary said.

At home in Raleigh with her parents, Joanna enjoys doing art, baking treats, and using the computer for games, YouTube, or wikis.

The routine of getting out of the house to work on a regular schedule is beneficial to Joanna, who is calmer because of the consistency, Mary said. Joanna also works in libraries and for Special Olympics. Mary said the pair are working on communication and socialization, making sure to say hello and goodbye to co-workers each day. She would like Joanna to be able to explain what is wrong if she is angry or hurt.

“I’ve got the greatest amount of respect for her,” said Mary, adding that she and Joanna have built a relationship of love and trust. “She’s not only very smart, she’s very loving.”

Mary’s husband recently had a heart attack. When she came back to work with Joanna, Mary did not talk about her husband, but she said Joanna could tell something was wrong. Joanna looked right in her eyes, which she doesn’t usually do, and said “sad” three times. “She’s extra sensitive to my moods. She could really feel that,” Mary said.

“I feel very privileged to work with her.”

 

The ASNC Bookstore employs several adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder; ASNC believes meaningful employment is a key part of a fulfilling life.

Please visit the ASNC Bookstore at www.autismbookstore.com, our newly revamped website. All proceeds from the bookstore are returned to ASNC, where they help fund our mission to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families by providing support and promoting opportunities.

ASNC to Cover Supported Employment Services Until November 1

US Congress

While policymakers in Washington debate when and how to end the federal government shutdown, Americans want to know how their lives will be affected. In our state, many workers who are paid with federal dollars, even in state government, have faced furloughs. Of specific concern to individuals with autism and their families is which benefits may be reduced or eliminated temporarily.

This week, the NC Department of Health and Human Services sent out a notification to providers and consumers that services from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation would be halted because of the budget impasse. Many individuals with autism and their families rely on those services to find and maintain employment, which helps provide a fulfilling life as well as income.

The Autism Society of North Carolina is a licensed provider of employment services through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and believes that individuals with autism and their families should not become a casualty of the budget impasse. ASNC will continue supported employment services without reimbursement through November 1. We will use unrestricted donations to help cover this short-term investment in maintaining the quality of life for those whom we proudly serve.

ASNC will reassess its ability to continue supported employment services on November 1. It is our hope that before that date, the federal government shutdown will have ended. We will continue to keep our constituents informed about developments and impacts of the federal shutdown.

Q&A with Alan Cohen, employment supports professional

The Autism Society of North Carolina recently named Alan Cohen of Raleigh as the 2013 winner of the John and Claudia Roman Direct Service Award. Cohen, an employment supports professional who has worked for ASNC for four years, shares some of what he has learned.

Alan CohenWhat is a typical workday like for you?

That’s something that you learn very fast working in the field of vocational services, that there really isn’t a typical day. As varied and unique as the individuals are that we support, so is my workday. With that said, I usually begin each day with planning and reviewing my schedule and confirming my appointments. I work very closely with an ASNC employment supports coordinator, so we communicate most mornings to discuss the many issues involving our caseload. My caseload is made up of three areas of supported employment: job development, intensive training, and long-term vocational support, so my time is divided supporting individuals based on where they are on the vocational spectrum. I quickly learned that this position definitely is not a 9-to-5 job. There are many days where you are with someone either in person or on the phone at night or on the weekends.

What are the skills someone needs to work with adults with autism?

I feel that for the most part, the professionals who are drawn to this field innately have the aptitude to work with individuals with autism. However, continued education and training in the field, coupled with a high level of compassion and a genuine desire to help people are probably necessary ingredients to be successful.

How do you build relationships with the people you are helping?

I don’t have a defined protocol or strategy pertaining to building relationships with the individuals we support. Each individual is different in personality as well as their vocational goals. As part of our initial intake session, I make it a point to find out as much as I can about them personally, including their vocational goals, their educational background, their work history, their personal goals, their hobbies, jobs they like and jobs they don’t like, and any other information that might help us with the job search. With individuals involved in the job/career search process, or job development, I try to meet with them each week. This allows the individual, myself, and their families to really get to know each other and to work together to accomplish the goals that we have established. I feel it’s important to include the individual and their families as much as possible in active participation. This approach creates positive rapport, provides camaraderie, and helps to instill a sense of pride, responsibility, and confidence in the individual when we finally secure that perfect employment opportunity. I have a long history of coaching sports, and the interpersonal dynamics required to establish a strong player-coach relationship are basically the same in building positive working relationships with the people we support. 

Parents have said that you understand the way their adult children with autism think. Did you have to work to gain that skill or do you think it is instinctual?

Part of that obviously comes from my experience working with this population. However, because of my own personal experiences, I am very aware of some of the challenges that they have dealt with in their lives. I also feel that taking the time to really get to know each individual as well as demonstrating a genuine interest in their success helps to strengthen the working relationship.  

Can you identify a few areas in which individuals with autism need the most support?

As we all are aware – at least those of us who work at ASNC – each individual is different in the level of support that they require, although I do find that assistance with inter-job communication remains a consistent need across the spectrum.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s my goal to delegate a certain amount of responsibility to each individual in their job search to create a sense of active collaboration. The amount of responsibility that they can take on will vary from person to person. Some individuals certainly require more support than others, but it’s our job to challenge that threshold and to instill as much confidence, self-reliance, and independence in their lives as possible.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Notes!!!! The rest I see as just part of my job. There are challenging days, but it helps to really enjoy working with everyone that I have the opportunity to work with. 

What is the best part of your job? Or a moment you hold up as inspiration?

Aside from having the opportunity to work alongside some very talented colleagues, I’m inspired every day by the individuals and the families that we support. Knowing that with every job placement or career advancement, I am helping to propel them toward a new exciting phase in their life. Seeing this process unfold provides me with great inspiration and satisfaction as I see them transform themselves into responsible, working adults and young professionals.

Autism Society of North Carolina Names Winner of John and Claudia Roman Direct Service Award

Denise Ferguson and Alan Cohen

The Autism Society of North Carolina has named Alan Cohen of Raleigh as the 2013 winner of the John and Claudia Roman Direct Service Award. The annual award honors a direct service employee of the Autism Society of North Carolina who has demonstrated outstanding dedication to individuals with autism and their families. Cohen is an employment supports professional who has worked for ASNC for four years.

“The award allows us the opportunity to honor an ASNC direct support professional and acknowledge the tremendous difference they make each day in the lives of the families and individuals we support. The award also raises public awareness about direct support professionals and the important work they do,” said Denise Ferguson, ASNC’s director of services.

The two parents who nominated Cohen for the award agreed that he truly understands individuals with autism, their challenges, and their needs. Cohen takes time to get to know his clients and helps them find careers, not just jobs.

“I have very much appreciated the respect and understanding that Alan has shown in working with Alex,” Linda Griffin said. “He could have more easily found Alex a job doing something that did not use Alex’s education and skill set. But rather than just stick him in a job, check him off the list and move on, he considered what would be best for Alex in the long run.”

Griffin said Cohen has helped her son not just in job development, but in other areas of personal growth, such as building an exercise regimen. “None of these things are within Alan’s job description, I am sure, yet he does these things with a compassionate heart and such a generous spirit that I am moved beyond words. He is an unheralded hero, in my opinion – a secret treasure in the heart of the Autism Society.”

Marty Kellogg appreciated Cohen’s flexibility and dedication in meeting with her son as often as he needed support. “Another thing that impresses me about Alan is that he doesn’t ‘spoon-feed’ my son in all these job endeavors.  He fully expects Adam to take equal responsibility toward achieving his job goals.”

“Alan has become more than his job title. He is a trusted friend,” Griffin said.

Cohen received a cash award of $1,000 during National Direct Care Appreciation Week. He also will be recognized at the Autism Society of North Carolina’s annual conference in February in Charlotte.

The John and Claudia Roman Direct Service Award was endowed by Lori and Gregg Ireland to honor Christine Roman, the direct service professional who worked with their son, Vinnie. It was named for her parents, John and Claudia Roman.

Past winners of the  John and Claudia Roman Direct Service Award:
2007 – Felicia McLean, Fayetteville
2008 – Samantha Erway, Asheville
2009 – Amanda Freeland, Fayetteville
2010 – Emily Bennett, Asheville
2011 – Lori Sweeney, Asheville
2012 – Tanya Ahner-Mejia, Greensboro