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On-the-job training, personalized education plans among resources offered to individuals with autism by Phoenix institutions

For many, once high school students throw their caps up in the air they have at least a decent idea of what the future will look like. However, for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the future they may take could look a little more murky.

According to an article by Cross River Therapy with its “wide range of resources, laws, and policies in place to support individuals with autism and their families,” Arizona is one of the most accommodating states for individuals with autism.

The Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center is a nationally-recognized nonprofit organization focused on autism research, education for autistic individuals and support for their families. 

In Phoenix, specifically, the Phoenix Zoo and Arizona Science Center offers sensory-friendly events for Autistic Individuals. These are just two of the public spaces that intend to be accessible for individuals with autism. 

Another resource Arizona has to offer is the Department of Economic Security, which works closely with the Division of Developmental Disabilities to ensure individuals with autism receive services and supports that best serve their needs.

Brett Bezio, Deputy Press Secretary for Arizona’s Department of Economic Security, explains that Division of Developmental Disabilities uses “person-centered planning to meet each individual where they are, and build rigorous but achievable goals to assist the individual in reaching their potential and lead a self-directed, healthy and meaningful life.” 

The Division of Developmental Disabilities offers numerous employment services that provide on-the-job training. Those who qualify can get one-on-one support, with the goal of keeping members hired by a company.

Most students who have autism are also placed in special education services during school, which means they also have an Individual Education Program (IEP), Bezio explains that an IEP is “plan tailored specifically to the individual child's needs according to the Arizona Department of Child Safety. The IEP is intended to help the child succeed in the classroom. IEPs are created with input from teachers, counselors, parents, and the student.”

Caitlin Kosec, Special Education Supervisor of Transition Service for the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio, works closely with students who use the IEP. She said students tend to struggle after high school with social relationships because a lot of them “tend to be with the same peers for 10-12 years.” Navigating social situations can become difficult for individuals with Autism, so if students decide to pick up jobs they figure out “picture schedules,” expectations for the employee. Rather than explaining what their job would be in words, it would be in pictures. 

Alan Gonci, a transition coordinator for the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio, works specifically with high school students who are using  an IEP. He said that while some students with autism go to college, for most individuals with autism, college isn’t a fit for them. Since living away from home in a competitive college environment, where a lot is expected, it can become too overwhelming for individuals with autism. Gonci explains individuals with autism are “very detail-oriented and can do a lot of jobs,” but they can lose opportunities because of differences in social skills. He explained how employees can joke around at work, but for individuals with autism, they cannot decipher when someone is joking with them.

After high school some individuals with autism decide to switch their IEP to an Individual Service Plan (ISP), which can help an individual find jobs or other resources after high school.  For Amy Shope’s son, Dylan Shope, while he most likely will never have a job, his ISP helps him “to get out in the community like taking him out for meals, taking him to shop, or even to a flea market or zoo.”

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