On July 21 about 65 people gathered to celebrate “a dream come true” at the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest in East Orange, a beneficiary agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. They were taking part in the dedication of the agency’s new career center for individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The program, funded by a grant from the New Jersey division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, officially launched in January and welcomed its first clients in March. Lauren Klein, JVS coordinator of rehabilitation services, anticipates that the center, which now serves 20 individuals, will have 50 clients before the grant period ends in December.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, JVS executive director Leonard Schneider said the center “fills a gap” in vocational services for people with autism “by utilizing specialized methods to focus on exploration of career interests, development of work aptitudes and skills, and acquisition of job readiness and job retention strategies.”
Pointing out that New Jersey has the highest number of children in the country being diagnosed with ASD, he added, “As these children grow up, they require continuation of services well beyond their high school years.” The opening of the center, he said, was “a dream come true.”
The project expands JVS’s career camp, a two-week program launched in 2009 for high school students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The career center offers simulated work centers to enable clients to gain real-world-type experience and practice. In one area, a “clothing store” offers racks of garments on different kinds of hangers that need to be arranged in a certain way, as well as shelves on which clothing, after being folded on a folding board, can be put away. A “medical office” includes cabinets, a desk, and records that need to be filed according to medical office systems. The “cafe” offers tables and the cloths to cover them with as well as containers that need to be filled with condiments and placed on the tables. The “grocery store” is equipped with a pricing gun, as well as various kinds of food products that need to be stacked properly on shelves or checked out at a register. There is also a business office and a shipping and receiving center.
The work stations are flexible. “Each person who comes through the center has a very specific need and so we adapt the work stations to meet the needs of the client,” said Klein. “If someone is really looking for data entry, we have the ability to set that up.” The program also offers a range of other services, including resume writing, interview polishing, and social skills training.
When the grant runs out, the program will be offered on a fee-for-service basis.
Currently, clients come via referrals from the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. All participants are required to have a vocational evaluation, which JVS can provide. Because of the highly individualized needs of the client base, participation varies widely, with some individuals taking advantage of all options and some focusing on developing a particular skill set. Among the first 20 participants, most come two-five days a week and spend about 12 hours a week at the center.
The grant to JVS was one of seven made by the NJ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services with federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
Dr. Linda S. Meyer, executive director of Autism New Jersey, who attended the dedication, said, “Finally, adults with autism might have an option.”