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Vocational Rehabilitation Service Models
for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
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wildwood-logo: learning for life

Mission statement:

Working collaboratively with individuals, families and the community, Wildwood Programs empowers and enables children and adults with neurologically based learning disabilities, autism and other developmental disorders to live independent, productive and fulfilling lives.

Contact Information

1190 Troy-Schenectady Road
Latham, NY 12110
Phone 518-640-3400
Contact Person- Joshua Muchmore
Website- www.wildwoodprograms.org

Organizational Profile

Wildwood Programs was created in 1967 when a group of parents found that their children were not served well by existing programs. What began as a program for a handful of preschoolers has since grown into an organization that provides comprehensive supports and services to well over 1,300 people and their families every year. From the child struggling in school with a complex learning disability; to the adolescent with autism trying to navigate his or her social world; to the adult with a developmental disability; to the family doing everything they can to support their child with a disability, Wildwood Programs helps people grow. Rather than developing programs based on labels or diagnoses, Wildwood has developed supports and services based on each person's characteristics, likes, dislikes and unique personality. Wildwood partners with families and offers supports and services that are individualized and tailored in a comprehensive way for each person.

Created in 1984, the Employment Services department emerged to serve the original group of children as they approached adulthood and the need for employment-related supports was identified. Just as the agency grew, so too did the employment department, as many individuals with disabilities expressed a desire to work in their local community and services were needed to address the barriers that existed. Wildwood's Employment Services staff works collaboratively with families and businesses to empower and enable individuals with disabilities to increase their level of independence and integration as members of their local workforce.

Program Design

The mission of Wildwood Employment Services is to provide businesses with competent employees and give individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities an opportunity to thrive in the workplace. Assisting adolescents and adults with ASD to find jobs and advance in their careers is dependent upon strong partnerships with families and community businesses, as a means to deliver highly individualized services to each person. There is a menu of program services that includes:

Transition to Work

Diagnostic Vocational Evaluations: The results of this evaluation are compiled in an easy-to-read report. A vocational rehabilitation counselor, then, assists in formulating a plan of action, making recommendations regarding vocational options.

Situational Assessments: a "fixed term" unpaid placement in the community, provides the opportunity to assess a person's work skills, and allows individuals to see what job would be a correct match for them. This helps ensure a good job match prior to placement at a job site.

Job Development: Employment Specialists assist individuals in searching for community employment by researching job leads, contacting businesses, building resumes, coordinating interviews, and helping individuals to apply for positions that match their interests and abilities. Understanding what an employer is looking for in a potential employee is equally critical, and thus much of job development also becomes training individuals toward being able to understand and meet the expectations of the business environments where they seek to work.

On-site and Off-site Training Support: Once an individual begins working, Employment Specialists are ready and able to supplement the company's existing orientation, training, and/or supervision protocols in order to offer an individual the greatest opportunity for success in that position. Initially, the Employment Specialist may provide intensive support, but as individuals become more familiar with the position, the Employment Specialist will begin to fade back.

Follow-along: The services that Wildwood Programs provide are long-term, and a business can expect the Employment Specialist to continue visiting the job site at least twice a month. This is done to ensure that a stable and supportive work environment continues throughout the duration of an individual's employment to the greatest extent possible. Such follow-along is intended to be conducted in the least intrusive manner possible, so as to not be burdensome to the employee or the employer.

Advocacy: Advocacy is an integral part of Wildwood's philosophy. The Employment Specialist often facilitates and mediates communication within the workplace to promote a stable work environment.

Benefits advisement: Recognizing that many individuals with ASD receive financial and medical benefits from programs like SSA, regular discussions of the work impact on those benefits is included in the development of appropriate goals for employment. Whenever feasible, individuals are encouraged to pursue and maintain employment that increases their level of financial independence and self-sufficiency.

Transition to work: Wildwood Programs collaborates with special education programs at local school districts to help students with ASD make a successful transition into adulthood, one that includes the ability to work productively in their communities. Customized around the needs of each individual student, these services can include things such as job shadowing, supported internships, and training on work-related skills.

Program Effectiveness

  • Forty people with ASD were served in 2011 by Wildwood Employment Services.
  • Thirty of these individuals were placed in competitive or supported competitive employment with pay ranging from $7.25/hour to $14.07/hour.
  • From April 2010 to February 2011, these employees received a cumulative total of 1810 hours of job coaching in competitive and supported competitive job placements.
  • Wildwood Programs serves a diverse group of people with ASD in terms of age, gender, educational background, and race/ethnicity. For instance:
    • In 2010, people with ASD served by Wildwood Programs ranged in age between 19 and 63 years old.
    • 85% of individuals with ASD were male and 15% were female.
    • The highest level of education for those served with ASD ranged from 85% having a high school diploma, 7.5% having an Associate's degree, and 7.5% having a Bachelor's degree.
    • The ethnic background of the people with ASD served in 2010 closely models the ethnic background of Albany County as a whole, the county where Wildwood Programs' main office is located.

Ethnicities Served by Wildwood Programs*
Wildwood Ethnicity Graph

* Albany County population data retrieved from the U.S. Census Bureau.

What makes program work for persons with ASD?

"What sets Wildwood Employment Services apart from similar programs can be summarized under three headings: staffing, innovation, and a "ready-first" philosophy.

Staffing- Since the relationship between an individual with ASD and their Employment Specialist is integral to their satisfaction with services and success on the job, recruiting and retaining quality staff is vitally important. Wildwood Programs has developed numerous policies and programs to enhance motivation and retention, including comprehensive benefits coverage and active recognition programs; in four surveys in the past seven years, 97% of staff indicated that they would refer a friend or a member of their family for employment at Wildwood Programs. Within the Employment Services department, the organizational structure is built upon recognizing and capitalizing upon each staff person's strengths, interests, and experiences. This allows staff to focus on areas of expertise where they can excel and grow, maximizes the potential of the entire team, and enhances job satisfaction, all of which generate a higher quality of service provision to the individuals that are supported. Staff also receive specialized training in working with individuals with ASD, which enables them to understand the generalities of working with this population, though supports are still personalized to specific needs, learning styles, desires, and interests of each individual.

Innovation- Wildwood Employment Services is committed to continual innovation. Several years before laptops became more commonplace in the workforce, the agency constructed their own database and equipped Employment Specialists with their own laptops, which immediately increased efficiency and promoted flexibility in service provision. Ongoing technological enhancements have reduced the administrative burden associated with documentation, thus enabling more focus on the direct services that are provided to individuals with disabilities. Programmatic innovation is continually sought after, and refinements are always being made within the program to respond proactively to changes in the business community, the fiscal climate, and disability related trends such as the increased prevalence of ASD..

Ready-first philosophy- A third aspect that makes the Wildwood Employment Services program work is its "ready-first" philosophy. Similar to the treatment of addictions, vocational rehabilitation requires a balance between prevention and treatment. For years, the world of employment services for individuals with disabilities has tended to adopt more of a "treatment" model, with a focus on placing individuals and then providing whatever on-the-job supports are necessary to help them be successful. Through actively engaging the business community, however, Wildwood Employment Services has heard the opposite: business owners, although willing to hire individuals with ASD, need employees who come ready to work near maximum capacity. Therefore, a "prevention" model, where individuals' strengths and experiences are geared toward specific vocational opportunities, seemed to be necessary. This realization led to the development of Wildwood Employment Services' "ready-first" approach, where the processes of training, assessment, and skill acquisition largely occur prior to an individual's start on the job. This philosophy promotes an individual's chances for success, helps to avoid unnecessary failure, and better responds to the needs of the business community which, thus, increases the opportunities for lasting partnerships." Joshua Muchmore, Director of Employment Services.

What do parents have to say about program?

"I think the Employment Program at Wildwood is great. Our son is a success because of the supports provided by his Employment Specialist. She helps him maintain the job, navigate through any challenges he may face, and teaches him how to handle problems and to advocate for himself. Our son now has a lot of self-confidence on the job and can handle most circumstances that come his way. Most of all he is very happy at his workplace."

"Wildwood's employment program bridges relationships with employers that are responsive and sensitive to their needs. Their staff are dedicated professionals who possess a wealth of knowledge that they freely entrust to others."

"We're very happy with Wildwood. Our son has been at his workplace for 26 years and there's a big change in how he works now because of the job that Wildwood's staff have done."

Success Story

Photo of Glenn working at restaurant

Glenn on the left with his supervisor Michael

Meet Glenn: Glenn has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum and is a consumer of Wildwood's Employment Services department. Glenn was nearing graduation from school and was participating in vocational trials with different businesses. He was especially successful as a dishwasher in a family owned restaurant. So much so that the restaurant offered him a paid part time position while he was in school. Glenn really liked the staff, as they did him. He became very comfortable working at the restaurant. After having worked there for several years the management changed. Glenn has always thrived when things are predictable, but experienced increasing anxiety with confusion and change. Under the new management, shifts and hours would vary wildly. Checks would not be available on time or would bounce. It became one problem after another and the new management was not supportive. It began having a substantial negative impact on Glenn. But Glenn did not want to leave since he was so familiar with the environment and friends with almost all of the staff. It became a very perplexing problem for Glenn.

With the support of his aunt, help from his residential manager, a family friend, and intensive on-the-job training from Wildwood Employment Services, we were able to help Glenn secure a job at Panera Bread. It was hard leaving that first job, but with all of the support, Glenn was able to make the transition with very few difficulties. Mike, the General Manager at Panera has worked exceptionally well with Glenn, providing clear directions, compliments when due and corrective instruction as occasionally warranted.

Mike states "Glenn is a great example of a person who, when committed, can achieve almost anything." Glenn now works the same hours Tuesday through Thursday, every week. He receives paychecks, which are a predictable amount on a predictable day. This allows Glenn to plan and save for trips, as he loves to travel. Glenn recently commented, "I really enjoy working at Panera Bread. It is a much better environment and everyone is friendly, always treating me with respect." The sense of achievement is clear in the way Glenn does his job. He takes pride in the positive feedback he receives. This has impacted Glenn's life in a positive and meaningful way.

Cost of the Program

The operating budget of the employment services programs is approximately $1.2 million and is funded by State VR Payments, Federal Grants, OPWDD/Medicaid, and school districts.

Staffing

Job Title

Total Number

Percent Time*

Key Tasks

• Director of Employment Services

1

2%

Program administration; research & development; fiscal oversight; staff recruitment & coaching; liaison to State partners

 

 

 

 

• Associate Director of Employment Services

1

5%

Assist Director; fiscal management; supervision

 

 

 

 

• Senior Employment Specialist

1

8%

Quality assurance and monitoring; direct service, mostly intakes


 

 

 

• Employment Specialist

15

15%

Direct service: job development and job coaching

 

 

 

 

• Voc Rehab Counselor

2

11%

Direct service, including vocational evaluations

*Wildwood Programs serves people with an array of disabilities. The chart above shows the percent of time that the Employment Services department staff spends serving people with ASD.

Necessary for Successful Replication

  • Organizational commitment to the support of integrated employment outcomes
  • Assessing outcome measures for the individuals with ASD and the businesses that employ them
  • Challenging practices that impede the employment of people with ASD
  • Dedication to provide services that are based on researched practices

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