Holistic Approach toward Independence and Employment

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 View Comments Autism Speaks

This post is by Leigh Belcher, MS LPC, Director of Clinical Services at Triumph Services, Inc., Holly Brigman, M.Ed., CRC, NIC, Coordinator of Program Research and Evaluation at Auburn University's Center for Disability Research and Service, and Brooke Stephens, Executive Director of Triumph Services, Inc.

Triumph Services, Inc. is dedicated to filling the gap in services for young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The success of Triumph is due to its holistic model which incorporates life coaching, job coaching, individual therapy, and social skill acquisition.

In collaboration with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS), and Auburn University’s Center for Disability Research and Service (CDRS), Triumph Services sought to determine if an Apple iPadTM could help individuals with disabilities to: 1) increase independence at home, at work, and in social situations; 2) decrease anxiety; 3) manage medication, and 4) target specific, individual areas of need. Through a 2011 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus grant, the ADRS purchased iPads to be customized for eight individuals who were receiving wrap-around services through Triumph. Auburn’s CDRS partnered with Triumph to choose iPad applications based on the individuals’ needs, to train each person, and to evaluate the program outcomes.

Eileen is a 25-year-old woman with ASD, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, and mobility orthopedic/neurological impairments. Eileen had no independent work history prior to receiving the iPad. But with the added intervention of the iPad, Eileen was able to work independently, decrease her tics, and become involved in her community. Working as an Office Assistant at a local nonprofit organization, Eileen used her iPad at work to watch individualized, story-based interventions. Strategies that lowered her anxiety in social situations and decreased her tics included watching YouTube to observe appropriate social behaviors, wearing earphones in public, and accessing WordSearch. Eileen stated that her iPad made her feel less stressed and allowed her to spend time in the community.

Erik is a 28-year-old man with ASD. Like Eileen, Erik had many challenges that made achieving independence difficult. With the addition of the Apple iPad, Erik was able to make new friends and maintain stability at work. Because Erik did not have Internet access in his apartment, he used his iPad in the lobby of his building where he could access wireless service; it was here that Erik developed friendships with other tenants. This gave Erik a core group of friends for the first time in his life. Erik’s inability to take his medication as prescribed and to maintain a healthy diet contributed significantly to his unsuccessful employment history. His iPad enabled him to use a medication app called MedsLog to record daily medication usage and remind him to reorder medication from the pharmacy. Erik also learned to utilize Shopping List Lite to assist in making a weekly meal plan and a corresponding grocery list. These two areas of improvement – medication management and a healthy diet – helped Erik increase his productivity and maintain self control.

Gwen is a 23-year-old woman with ASD, ADHD, and a psychotic disorder who had lived independently, but had many challenges. These included impulsivity, difficulty with reasoning and decision making, poor hygiene, difficulty with apartment cleanliness, problems with maintaining appropriate boundaries, and poor time management. Gwen’s work history included several jobs in the food service sector. She had been fired from two restaurants due to difficulty with following directions and a pattern of missing her assigned shifts. With the use of the iPad, Gwen’s overall independence increased. She quickly learned to synch her iPad with her mobile device, helping to reinforce scheduling. She used the calendar to organize her daily routine, including her work schedule, and for monitoring and making physician appointments. Gwen also used the MedsLog application for medication management. With the assistance of these iPad applications, Gwen gained employment as a cashier and did not miss a single shift.

This project demonstrates that the iPad is one tool that can be useful for individuals with ASD, but Triumph’s holist approach reminds us that the key to any successful intervention is understanding the person as a whole.