Every Thursday morning students diagnosed with autism from the Ivymount School in Rockville arrive at the local National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) office to help with filing papers, copying, mailing, and other office tasks.
Two classes of six students from the school participate, and each class visits every other week. This daytime activity for the students was created by a teacher at the school in March 2004 to allow the students to practice their vocational skills. Prior to the program, the students had learned these skills at school.
The link between the local NAAR office and the autism program at Ivymount, both formed by parents of autistic children in Maryland, made it possible for the students to come here.
Autism is a brain disorder affecting communication and responsive skills, and also how the autistic person forms relationships with others. Autism was first discovered over fifty years ago. A child with autism is most often diagnosed by the age of two or three. The strength of the disorder differs from person to person. There are presently no known causes for autism, and no cure or specific treatment has been found. Diagnosis comes from only behavioral observation.
As the students assist at the office, they are not only helping advance the cause, but also learning the necessary skills to obtain a job in the business world. They practice organization skills, led by job coaches who teach and reinforce the skills, encourage the students, and promote interaction with the supervisor. The students are allowed to take breaks at certain time intervals, and may receive rewards when the task at hand is completed. The objective of the program is to have the students be comfortable
and skilled with this kind of work, so that they may acquire paying jobs some day using these skills.
It's a triple-win situation: students practice their job skills; NAAR receives help in the office; and the students are supported by NAAR's funding of autism research towards causes and cures for their autism.
Miranda Gibbons, age 14, is the daughter of NAAR trustee, Ann Gibbons. Ann's son and Miranda's brother, Philip, is a student at Ivymount and one of NAAR's “Thursday's Gang”.
If you are interested in volunteer opportunities with NAAR for you, your school, your organization, or others please contact the National Alliance for Autism Research National Office at 888-777-6227 x34, or call your local NAAR office.