Program helps young adults take autism to work

Project Search teaches necessary job skills, eases transition to workforce


Finding work after graduation can prove challenging for anyone, but for young adults with autism, getting that first job can be especially difficult.

A recent study by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that half of young adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unable to find work in the eight years after finishing high school.

Enter Project Search, an innovative program that hopes to make the transition easier.

The year-long program uses a hands-on learning approach combined with classroom-style instruction to introduce developmentally and mentally disabled children to the workplace.

Dr. David Kuhn, the clinical director of New York's Presbyterian Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, hopes to give participants the opportunity to thrive in any environment.

"The mission is really to build the skills necessary for these individuals to move on beyond these doors to get competitive employment," Kuhn said.

For the duration of the program, interns--who range in age from 18 to 21--will spend at least six hours each day building and later applying necessary skills and becoming more comfortable with the idea of entering the workplace.

"Our interns go through three rotations, three ten-week rotations for a total of 600 work hours per year where they are placed at different sites across our campus getting a variety of different experiences," Kuhn said.

Participants must have received an ASD diagnosis, have no violent tendencies, be able to communicate effectively and follow a one- to two-step schedule.

Intern Geoffrey Straughn likes the idea.

"Well, I do need a schedule of what I do 'cause, if I don't have a schedule, I don't know what the heck I'm supposed to do," Straughn said.

Straughn's nearly finished and, thanks to Project Search, he's now gainfully employed at a district attorney's office. He's one of the 70 percent in the program who go on to find work and his mother, Judy, couldn't be happier.

"Geoffrey has grown a lot this year," she said. "He's learning to do so many things and he seems to be happy, which is what I want."

Project Search began as a single program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in 1996. It's grown rapidly and now includes more than 200 facilities across the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Michigan sites include: Troy, Detroit and West Bloomfield.

To learn more about Project Search, click here.

To find a local Project Search program, click here.