For a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”), the road to adulthood can be very challenging, especially when gathering the training they need to find meaningful work. According to a report published by the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, young adults with ASD have lower employment rates and higher rates of complete social isolation than those with other disabilities. This is understandable, as the demands of acquiring a job-- unpredictable stimuli, dynamic circumstances, new social interactions-- can be difficult for anyone to meet. Compounded with the drop-off in services and support available for youth with ASD after high school, many young adults with ASD are often unable to successfully enter the workforce upon graduating. Greater support must be provided to these young adults, so they can enjoy the significant benefits of employment, such as greater financial independence, increased self-confidence, and a place for socialization.
With the goal of improving work readiness and enhancing employment skills of individuals with ASD, The See Things My Way (STMW) Centre for Innovation in Autism & Intellectual Disabilities (CIAID) proudly offers Worktopia pre-employment programs. Worktopia is a national project funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities Program, with a network of programs across seven provinces. Worktopia offers three employment-readiness programs for individuals with ASD, all designed to provide individuals with ASD an opportunity to build social and workplace skills within an accepting environment. Two of these Worktopia programs, EmploymentWorks Canada (EWC) and CommunityWorks Canada® (CWC), were implemented in Quebec for the first time in 2017 by the STMW Centre for Innovation.
After a successful launch of EWC, CWC became the second Worktopia program to be offered in Montreal, during fall 2017. CWC is a 10-week pre-employment training program offered to youth with ASD, providing them with different volunteer experiences each week, allowing them to explore and practice their workplace interests. Each weekly session is structured to include work sampling, as well as guided activities focused on improving social communication skills. A unique aspect of this program is the inclusion of peer mentors- neurotypical young adults of the same age- who volunteer alongside youth with ASD and assist program staff in helping participants achieve their individual program goals.
Our first CWC cohort, consisting of six teenagers with ASD and seven peer mentors, collaborated with six different community partners throughout the fall of 2017. Each organization - the Ronald McDonald House, McGill University, Westmount Public Library, Spectrum Productions, MADA Community Centre, and the Gold Centre - demonstrated excellent community stewardship by offering CWC volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills within a safe and embracing environment. Highlights of the sessions include participating in the McGill University and Westmount Public Library book sales, advertising for the Spectrum Productions 8th Annual Screening Gala, and preparing food donations the MADA Community Centre. Each session, CWC volunteers were asked to adapt to a variety of environments and task requirements, a challenge which they readily met with enthusiasm and open minds! The outstanding performance by our CWC volunteers is demonstrated by the fact that many of our community partners expressed the desire to collaborate with other Worktopia programs in the future!
As the first edition of CWC came to a close, young adults with autism graduated from the program with enhanced workplace and communication skills, new friendships, and a better sense of what being employed really means. CWCimpacted not only our participants with ASD, but also peer mentors and community partners, who now recognize the value of individuals with ASD in the workplace. The STMW Centre for Innovation is excited to launch another cohort of CommunityWorks Canada® in February 2018. And of course, keep an eye out for two more editions of EmploymentWorks Canada in May and September 2018, with preparations well underway!