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Organization encourages autistic individuals to learn employable skills

Joshua Tourangeau

Like most high school seniors, Joshua Tourangeau is looking forward to life after graduation this June. But unlike many of his classmates, Joshua, who has Autism, already has a full time job and is pursuing a retail management career thanks to the experience he gained at the Roses for Autism program.

Roses for Autism, in conjunction with its parent company, Ability Beyond, helps young adults with Autism discover their unique strengths and learn the skills necessary to obtain meaningful employment and achieve their goals. The comprehensive curriculum offers individualized instruction in social dynamics, research and technology skills, real world academics, life skills, and career training.

Joshua was accepted into the Roses for Autism (RFA) program in 2015 as part of his school day.  This is the first job Joshua has ever had. Since then, Joshua obtained a seasonal job at Kohl’s for the 2015 holiday season. Within weeks of finishing Kohl’s, he started a part time job at Walgreens as a cashier. Joshua will complete his internship at RFA in June.

“Joshua quickly learned retail and e-commerce responsibilities,” said Michelle Ouimette, Managing Director of Roses For Autism and Ability Beyond. “He takes pride in the work he does and ensures that the retail store is welcoming to customers and stocked with fresh flowers. He also enjoys interacting with the customers.”

Unfortunately Joshua is an exception, as a large majority of individuals on the Autism spectrum do not have access to job training programs. According to a report from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, over half of them never received vocational or life skills coaching to obtain a job. During high school, more than 50% of youth received speech-language therapy, personal assistant services, social work, case management, transportation and occupational therapy. However, less than one-third received these same services during their early 20’s.

“Many reports about Autism refer to this as the ‘services cliff’,” explains Ouimette. “Under Federal law known as the IDEA, children receive a full complement of education and support services until the 12th grade, then those who do not transition into either work, supported employment, or postsecondary education have difficulty finding and accessing those same services.  Nothing is guaranteed to individuals or families after 21.”

To ensure Joshua continues to be successful, the RFA staff has routinely checked in on him at Walgreens.  Now a year after starting at the drug store chain, he has decided to pursue the company’s management track.  RFA staff members continue to meet with Joshua periodically to coach him to be an effective manager and supervisor.

During Autism Awareness month in April, Joshua’s mother, Annette Soules, hopes that the number of social programs like Roses for Autism will increase and help more children like her son.

“I am extremely grateful that Joshua has had the amazing opportunity to participate in Roses for Autism,” said Soules. “The changes in Joshua have been astounding. He has definitely matured. Josh will be graduating high school this June with a full time job and a bright future.”

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