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Vocational Rehabilitation Service Models
for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Groden Network of Programs: The Cove Center Print E-mail

Mission Statement

The Cove Center's day service program responds to the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities by providing individualized programs toward the development of job skills, related social behaviors, communication, and adaptive living skills. Through our work with the individual, the family, and the community, we are able to assist people with ASD to become productive and responsible members of their communities and to effectively manage the challenges of daily living.

Contact Information

610 Manton Avenue
Providence, Rhode Island 02909
Phone: 401-787-0098 or 401-751-0459
Contact Person: Michael Smith
Email Address:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Organizational Profile

In 1976, the Groden Center opened for persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. Thirty years later, the Groden Center has expanded its services to people with ASD of all ages through four corporations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. These corporations include the Cove Center, the Halycon Center, the Groden Center, and Kingston Hill Academy and serve over 400 people annually.

Vocational Program Design

The Vocational Services Department provides vocational training and employment services to people with ASD across the Groden Center Day Program for people fourteen to twenty-one years old and the Cove Center for people twenty-one and older. The students of the Groden Center receive vocational training as part of their overall educational program directed by the Individual Education Plan (IEP).

People We Serve

The Vocational Department offers specialized programs in response to community needs. One of these programs is called the Job Club. The Job Club is a vocational program for young adults with Asperger's Syndrome. Participants receive training, instruction, job search assistance, and support as they transition to community-based employment. Three days per week participants attend classes to learn social and job seeking skills that prepare them to find and keep a meaningful job. Once employed, they often continue to receive individualized training and support from our program staff with funding from the state Vocational Rehabilitation agency.
Our Enterprises and other programs of the Vocational Department are designed to serve people across the autism spectrum, including people with severe autism. These Enterprises include The Groden Greenhouse, The Ladle, The Business Center, a large scale recycling program at Wheaton College, and Squeegie Clean. The individuals involved in these programs are earning wages based on industry standards. Some individuals working in these enterprises receive advanced training and move on to jobs in the same industry but with other companies.

Most clients go through the following steps:

flowchart diagram - described below in the Referral, Discovery, Development of Vocational Plan, Vocational Instruction, Vocational Instruction, Customized Job Development, and Customized Job Development sections


A person with ASD goes to the vocational rehabilitation state agency and requests services to help them find a job. The state agency then contacts the Cove Center for an inquiry into the vocational rehabilitation program and refers the individual for services.


"Discovery" of vocational interests ranges from the basic skill acquisition such as following directions to more advanced skill acquisition like website development.

Discovery considers the individual and his or her unique learning style and interests. It is effective for people on the autism spectrum, because it recognizes and builds on unique interests and skills of the person. Skills that are sometimes seen as barriers to employment, like an intense attention to detail, are reframed as "passions" of the person. Once a person's interests are confirmed through real work experience, our job developers work with him or her to create the right "job match" focusing on the person's skills and specific needs of an employer. Employers support Discovery, because it allows them the opportunity to learn about a potential employee's skills over time, as well as the opportunity to do match specific job tasks to the employee.

Development of Vocational Plan

The annual service plan is created to encompass the individual's goals when entering the program. This plan is heavily focused on core vocational skill attainment, but may have other related goals such as soft-skills training. The instruction of soft skills includes training in areas such as communication skills, self-control, community mobility, self-advocacy, and budgeting.

Vocational Instruction

Equally important in the Cove Center service model is individualized vocational instruction. Our agency approach is rooted in the principles of applied behavior analysis and positive behavior support. Vocational goals are clearly specified and the plan of instruction reflects the person's learning style and history of reinforcement. The integration of the person-centered values of discovery with the specific behaviorally based instruction plan makes our program unique and effective.

Customized Job Development

A paid job for someone is sometimes the result of a straightforward, fairly typical application, interview and hire process. More often it is the result of creativity, networking, and a sustained effort on the part of the person and their team. As mentioned in the Discovery phase, we will help identify the person's unique interests and strengths through facilitation of different, real world work experiences for them. In addition, our job developers have learned how to use the same Discovery-themed approach with employers. They will approach an employer honestly and with a clear objective (to help the person we're supporting to get a good job). They do this however, with a "soft" approach. For example, they will ask the companies for a visit or a tour and to find out specifics about their operations and their needs. Many times the job developer will visit a company and, based on the experience, not recommend anyone we support pursue employment there. In many other cases though, the job developer will find information and have a conversation that leads the employer to want to meet the individual, offer a Discovery opportunity. From there, the process moves from Discovery to Customized Job Development. The person may begin to trial the job, his or her strengths in relation that company's needs are identified, and a customized job is created. While there are certainly times that this process does not lead to a job, the re-framing of each vocational experience as an opportunity to gather information and experience contributes to the person's motivation and openness to new experiences.

Long-Term Supports

Individuals who become employed typically need on-going supports. This can range from short-term (a few weeks) to long-term (several months or years). Some individuals need permanent job coaching. The Cove Center approaches each job placement with the goal of "fading" staff support and creating natural supports from the person's supervisor or co-worker. To this end, we will continue to work with the person to set goals for skill acquisition leading towards greater independence. In many cases, the person will make some progress toward independence and Cove Center job coaches will reduce their presence but still make occasional site visits. For individuals who require permanent staff support, we work with the state Developmental Disability agency to secure funding. For those individuals who require less, or short-term support we work with the state Vocational Rehabilitation agency.

Program Effectiveness

  • Over 80 people with ASD were served by the Cove Center in fiscal year 2010. For 2011, over 100 people with ASD were served.
  • Annually the Cove Center provides approximately 10,500 hours of job coaching to people with ASD.
  • Consumers earn between $7.40 and $14.00 per hour in competitive work settings.
  • All people working in our "Enterprises" make $7.40 or more an hour.

What makes The Cove Center work?

The Cove Center works because we integrate different approaches like Discovery and Applied Behavioral Analysis while maintaining an individualized approach. During the Discovery process, the client's goals are often personal and very broad, but the staff's work is specific and precise to help a person find suitable employment. Additionally, outcomes are measured which requires a feedback loop between goals, progress, and actions plans.

Our dedicated staff is an integral part to our success. We have many long-term employees who are committed to the individuals we serve and their families. While our agency has grown over the past 10 years, our staff remains consistent and connected to the individuals and families. This connection allows for more creative and productive conversations with everyone identified in the employment plan.

The Groden Greenhouse, located in Providence, Rhode Island


Another reason the Cove Center works is our operation of Enterprises. These Enterprises include a fully functioning greenhouse, a food service program that operates out of two locations and is responsible for the management of our federally funded school lunch program, a window washing business, a recycling center at a local college, and an in-house business center. These Enterprises were created to accelerate the rate at which the individuals became employed and also to provide more diversity in work options since employees can transfer from one Enterprise to another easily. Individuals employed at these Enterprises make $7.40 an hour or more and routinely interact with the public. The work settings are professional and oftentimes volunteers with or without disabilities work alongside the employees with ASD.

It is the combination of our individualized vocational plans, our staff, and these Enterprises that contribute to the quality of our program.

-Michael Smith, Vocational Services Director


What do parents and consumers have to say about The Cove Center?

Clients and their family rate their satisfaction of our Vocational Services at 90-100%.
Beyond the statistics though, there are many success stories. Following are a couple of stories.

Wayne working in the Groden Greenhouse

Photo of Wayne Waterfire working and caring for plants

Meet Wayne: Wayne is a 30-year-old young man diagnosed with autism who resisted for years any identification as a participant in "a program". He struggled with issues of anger and self-control, becoming severely aggressive if he was asked by staff to be part of a group, classroom, or training program. Incidents of severe aggression exceeded 20 per year.

Approximately 12 years ago, the Groden Network created a business enterprise in a local greenhouse owned by the City of Providence. Positions for Greenhouse manager and Greenhouse laborer's were advertised and beginning to fill. Although Wayne did not have any experience in horticulture or Greenhouse work, his staff encouraged him to apply, feeling that a change of scenery from the day program setting to the community would help Wayne's motivation, self-esteem, and self-control. Wayne has worked successfully since the Greenhouse opened. He identifies as a Greenhouse "staff", (even attending staff meetings) gives tours to visitors at the Greenhouse, and has even spoken at the Rhode Island state house to a group learning about autism and employment. The turn-around in Wayne's mood, behavior, employment productivity, and quality of life is nothing short of remarkable.

Meet Kevin: Kevin is a 26-year-old young man who recently participated in The Groden Network Job Club for young adults with Asperger's. Kevin graduated from our local state university four years ago, but struggled to find a job due to Asperger's related social problems at work. Kevin had a variety of interests but central to everything else was a desire to put and keep things in order and his interest and skill in technology. Kevin paid a "Discovery" visit to a local Dunkin Donuts warehouse to learn more about their operations and what the employees did there. He learned of a position that involved the use of an inventory gun to track all of the supplies entering or leaving the warehouse but also required the loading/unloading of 18-wheeler trucks filled with large boxes. Kevin enjoyed the visit but confided to his Job Developer on the way back that he couldn't take the job because he didn't think he could lift the boxes. The Job Developer suggested asking the manager for a second visit and the chance for Kevin to showcase how skilled he was with the inventory gun and organization in general. They returned to the warehouse a few days later and, to everyone's surprise, Kevin was offered a job coordinating the inventory (using the gun), and documenting information on various forms and spreadsheets. The manager, in hiring Kevin, said he appreciated his honesty and the Job Developer's explanation of how to create "Customized Employment" for mutual gain. Kevin is still employed at the warehouse today earning in excess of $14 hourly.

Costs of Program

The Cove Center receives 95% of its funding from the Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities Division (BHDDH). The Groden Network school program, which supports vocational services to those individuals under age 21, receives 95-100% of it's funding from school districts throughout Rhode Island.


Job Title

Total Number

Percent Time

Key Tasks

Director and Association Director



1 - 50%

Direct all aspects of Vocational Dept. Liaise with other departments and community partners



1- 100%

1- 50%

Evaluates programs operations, job coaches, and enterprise operations. Liaise with other agency and program partners

Job Coaches



Provide job coaching support to people with ASD.

Direct Care Staff


8 @ 25%

1 @ 50%

Provide job coaching support to clients who are engage in supported employment and center-based activities.



Necessary for Successful Replication

  • Identifying interests and passions of the individual through the discovery process.
  • Full promotion of an individual's choice by offering different work experiences through the different "Enterprises" available in the community.
  • Instruction of soft skills such as communication skills, self-control, community mobility, social skills, self-advocacy, and budgeting.


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