Autistic adults find success with job training program

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For young adults on the autism spectrum, learning social cues and interpersonal communication skills can be difficult–but they are necessary skills to find a job.

For two years now, a promising program at Jewish Family Services has been giving these job seekers new confidence and new insight into what it takes to find employment.

The MAX Interpersonal Coaching Program is multifaceted, It is designed to help the young adults with social skills, and improve physical conditioning as it improves and polishes job application skills.

“I was very self centered. I didn’t know what to do,” Nathan Edwards tells me.

Edwards joins six other young adults for a weekly coaching session led by intervention specialist Angela Bellin.

“We know individuals on the autism spectrum have very rigid personalities.” Bellin shares. “This program is about gaining perspective beyond yourself.”

Students learn by a variety of social games, including one focused on making and sustaining eye contact called “You’re It.”

“That’s the key, the first step in seeing out of other people’s eyes, to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective,” Bellin said.

This game strengthens the ability with those on the spectrum to maintain eye contact with a  potential employer. They play other card games aimed at situational response as Angela calls out a unplanned circumstance they might find themselves in.

“A colleague suddenly invites you for a slice of pizza. You’re not really hungry but should you go?”

Each member has five cards, labeled one to five. One means strongly agree, where five is strongly disagree.

All the group flips over either a one or a two, which is a good sign according to Bellin.

“My friends at college say I’m dependably and loyal and a hard worker,”  Bryan, a group member, proclaims to another member.

The group has thirty seconds to write out bullet points to present for a job interview that is recorded and then critiqued.

“Look how natural he looks. Moving very naturally, looking relaxed and confident,” Angela shares on video review.

And MAX students take what they are learning on the road  with once a week pop up fitness, making trips to area fitness clubs to take part in yoga classes or group running events. Nathan had never run before becoming a member of MAX. Now 8 months later he’s lost 60 pounds and two weeks ago gained a new job in I.T. support with Red Roof Inns. Another MAX success story.

“I feel more engaged in learning social customs, what’s expected and unexpected. I bloomed and transformed”, Nathan declares with a smile on his face.

The program had worked with 25 young adults on the autism spectrum and 16 have found jobs. Another 8 have returned to school for specialized training.

If you are interested in the MAX program call Jewish Family Services at 231-1890.

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