POSTSCRIPTS: The goal of the joint University of Washington-Seattle Public Schools program is to help young people with autism find their way in the workplace.
Editor’s note: In Postscripts, we catch up with some of the people and places we’ve visited in Pacific NW magazine.
EARLIER THIS YEAR, several Seattle students became the first group to complete a joint University of Washington-Seattle Public Schools program that aimed to help young adults with autism find jobs.
Matthew Skelly, now 22 years old, entered the program with the idea to become a flight attendant. After interning at various UW job sites during the year and working with a job coach, he has tweaked his goals just a bit.
He still wants to work around planes, but he thinks the way to start is to get a job at the airport, perhaps as a baggage handler. After the Project Search program set him up with an informational interview with Alaska Airlines, he realized he wasn’t quite ready to become a flight attendant.
And he’s grateful for that knowledge.
“The informational interviews were helpful,” he says. Skelly now works at UPS, helping to deliver packages, and is working toward his driver’s license so he can work at the airport.
The Project Search chapter, which started its second cohort in September, helps students with autism get on-the-job experience, conduct interviews around the city and — hopefully — find a part-time job.
This year, the program has six students in their early 20s. Seattle Public Schools teacher Maggie Meister starts each morning by teaching general job and life skills at Nova High School, before the students travel via light rail to UW to perform administrative and other tasks at various job sites.
The program is going strong in its second year, but it is not without its challenges. Funding and coordinating the multiple agencies requires logistical prowess, and the organizers are on the hunt for more students and job sites that are eligible for the program.
“I think we’re making the most of what we have,” says Jill Locke, a research assistant professor at UW who is the Project Search business liaison.
She is optimistic about expanding the program, and has put an increased focus this year on training employees at the job sites how to best support and train Project Search students.