Project SEARCH helps young adults with autism

Special program offers life skills, head start on a career


WHITE PLAINS, New York – A recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry finds that half of young adults with autism are unable to find work in the 8 years after finishing high school. 

Geoffrey Straughn is finishing his final classes and he just started his first job thanks to a unique program called "Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism." For young adults with autism, finding work can be incredibly challenging. 

At Project SEARCH, interns spend classroom time learning life skills, but there is a strong focus on real-life job training.

"The mission is really to build the skills necessary for these individuals to move on beyond these doors to get competitive employment," explained David Kuhn PhD, Clinical Director at NewYork-Presbyterian Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. "Our interns go through 3 rotations, 3 [sets of] 10 week rotations for a total of 600 work hours per year where they are placed at different sites across our campus getting a variety of different experiences."

Interns range in age from 18 to 21 years old. They must have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, have no violent tendencies, be able to communicate and follow a one to two step schedule.

Project SEARCH intern Geoffrey Straughn said, "Well, I do need a schedule of what I do cause if I don't have a schedule, I don't know what the heck I'm supposed to do."

Geoffrey's new job is with one of the Yonkers New York District Attorney's office, and he is one of the 70 percent who go on to find work.

"Geoffrey has grown a lot this year, he's learning to do so many things, and he seems happy which is what I want," explained Geoffrey's mother, Judy Straughn.

Project SEARCH has grown from a single program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in 1996 to over 200 sites across the United States, Canada, the Unites Kingdom, and Australia.

Additional Information:

Research is necessary to help further our understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is when the brain has complex disorders. Autism affects the brain's ability to develop social and communication skills, which can often affect the person throughout their entire life. Researchers are looking at different treatments and approaches on how to better the lives of the individuals with ASD, as well as their families. Research is also being done studying the genetic as well as the neurology, and environmental influences of ASD.  A recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showed that more than half of young adults with autism are unable to find work after graduating high school. (Source: http://www.nyp.org/services/cadb-research.html)

PROJECT SEARCH: This unique program is a one year transition from school to work for people diagnosed with ASD. It takes place fully in a variety of worksites while using classroom knowledge and instruction, exploring, and hands-on training to help the students learn. Each day the students spend at least six hours immersed in the workplace to begin developing the skills needed, as well as becoming more comfortable in these types of environments. The goal of this project is to improve employment opportunities for adolescents with mental or developmental disabilities. Project SEARCH started at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and now there are currently 200 Project SEARCH program sites specifically focused on autism in a variety of different locations in the Unites States and Canada. This program became possible through a grant from the New York Collaborates for Autism (NYCA) from the money earned at the 2012 Comedy Central event called "Night of Too Many Stars". It was in partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Arc of Westchester and Southern Westchester BOCES.

In order to be eligible for the program the child must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a diagnosis of autism, PDD NOS, or Asperger's syndrome
  • Have met graduation credit requirements, and have a current IEP, or have been alternatively assessed
  • Have independent personal hygiene and grooming skills
  • Maintain appropriate behavior and social skills in the workplace without immediate supervision
  • Be able to engage in basic communication effectively, and take direction from supervisors
  • Have a valid social security number
  • Complete all required paperwork

Program links:

(Source: http://www.projectsearch.us/OurPROGRAM/ProgramModel.aspx)