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Adult Groups Increase Life Skills & Employment

Are you wishing there were better opportunities for skills-building and employment training for teens and adults in the autistic spectrum?  That was one of the most difficult barriers for me to break, and it’s one that there are still very few effective supports for.  It’s common for us autistics — and our parents –to underestimate ourselves.

Dr. Christina Whalen is one of the pioneers on this front.  Despite her lack of knowledge about the opportunities to dramatically improve autistic abilities through health restoration, Chris is on the verge of making her very-positive adult group learnings transferable to other groups and locations through manuals and trainings (available end of 2014).

The sound quality is fine, but my apologies about the video quality on Christina’s end; we played with the placement of the computer and camera, and this was the best we could do!

Highlights from her work include:

  • programs teaching adults self-care such as hygiene, chores, transportation
  • teach social faking skills using the PEERS model out of UCLA
  • separate women’s and men’s empowerment groups for relationships, finances, and employment
  • courses (6-12 adults) to build hard and soft employment skills, with job placement support
  • programs are either 14 weeks (fall or new year) or condensed into a week intensive in summer

One of the things that I really liked about Chris’s adult programs is the degree to which self-determination is focused on.  What they’ve found is that if they don’t match individuals with work that interests them, motivation to work is nil (surprisingly enough, grin).  This means that they are doing a great job at match-making with local partners, finding sustainable employment in competitive businesses.

While AFLS (the Assessment of Functional Living Skills), the Vineland, and the Social Responsiveness Scale are ABA tools, I do try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Chris’s groups are tailoring their approach and support to the needs of each individual, and there is some follow-up on quality of life results for participants in their different programs.

The women’s and men’s empowerment groups track self-esteem, confidence, anxiety and depression indicators.  Kudos to Chris for mentioning that indicators sometimes drop at the beginning as self-awareness grows; however, most of us autistics find that after a period of integration, our quality of life begins to climb because we can stop feeling at fault for the way we are, and instead work creatively with it.

Vocational rehabilitation is unfortunately often as underfunded as other disability supports, however it’s worth looking into.   Certainly, local college guidance counsellors are a potential source of advice that I’d never considered, and will have to investigate for you!  Support groups which are actually designed to be supportive environments for autistics are unfortunately rare, but I’m researching self-help groups which have a better track record.

Dr. Christina Whalen is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst specializing in autism and related disorders. She is currently VP, Director of the Vocational and Life Skills Academy at southwest Autism Research & Resource Center. Chris has developed and supervised home programs, educated and trained parents and teachers, consulted with school districts, taught college and graduate courses in psychology and education, has presented at numerous professional conferences, participates in fund-raising activities for various autism organizations, and has published in professional scientific journals. She is the editor and author of the book “Real Life, Real Progress” and is a Founder of TeachTown, a company that produces educational materials for individuals with Autism and other special needs.

1 Comment

  1. Peggy Slobodian says:

    Really enjoyed the interview ,it was very informative.Though I live in Hamilton On I would offer my skill set if its at all useful to yourself or your group working to realize your year round camp.(Again i would hope if possible there were some resources for young adults 18plus ,the group most often underserviced.)
    I was a R.N for over 25 yrs plus, as my background and the last 10 yrs a Certified Hypnotist and Reiki master.Both are excellent tools for confidence,anxiety,self esteem…Unfortunately my son is leery of any alternative approach so he dosn’t benefit from this and I respect his person and position on this.That being said if you see any benefit in these tools in the future ,please let me know.
    P.S I find your online webinairs very well presented and helpful. Sincerely Peggy Slobodian

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