In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Many posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience.
West Chester last week became the first university in the country to open a convenience store on campus to provide workplace training for autistic students, according to a Yale University expert whose organization is familiar with college programs nationally.
The Ram Shop, located in the same building as West Chester's autism program, will be a training ground for up to a quarter of the 50 students in the autism program on the 17,840-student state university's campus, said Cherie Fishbaugh, director of autism services.
West Chester began its autism program three years ago, on the cusp of a movement among colleges nationally to better serve growing numbers of students with autism showing up in classrooms. Between 1.7% and 1.9% of the nation’s college students are estimated to have autism.
Only a few students have dropped out of the program, which provides support in areas such as social competence, independence, self-care and career readiness and troubleshoots problems that students face in the classroom.
There are more than 60 programs at colleges nationwide. With 11, Pennsylvania has more than any other state. Among them are programs at Drexel, St. Joseph's, Bucks County Community College, Kutztown University and Eastern University. Rutgers University in New Jersey also has a program.
More programs are realizing the importance of career readiness, said Jane Thierfeld-Brown, an assistant clinical professor at Yale Child Study Center and director of College Autism Spectrum.
Nationally, 82% of college graduates with autism remain unemployed, she said. Yet, Fishbaugh said, many have characteristics that make them excellent employees, including attention to detail and high productivity.
“People rarely think about teaching work skills to college-capable students,” Thierfeld-Brown said. “Many people on the autism spectrum need to learn those employment skills as much as they need to earn a college degree — or more.”