Cleveland Clinic Children’s autism program helps teenage students prepare for future

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – Opening the door to possibility is the mission of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism Vocational Training Program.

It’s where students like 15-year-old Jack Cummings receive on-the-job career training. Cummings delivers mail five days a week at the hospital to physicians and is also a student at the Lerner School for Autism at the Cleveland Clinic. 

The program has nine community-based job training sites ranging from mail room, food service, farm and warehouse work.

“He’s really growing into his own and you can see he wants to be independent. He wants these responsibilities,” said Courtney Gebura, Transition Coordinator at the Lerner School for Autism.

Many students with disabilities across the country often do not have access to the same opportunities to succeed.

According to the hospital, nearly half of young adults with autism do not work for pay after exiting school and those who do tend to work in low wage jobs.

“I would love to say that all of our students go and get some type of employment, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” said Gebura of their students. “The students that have graduated, only a small portion of them, three to four students, have gone into competitive employment either part-time or full-time over the last 15 years.”

She said most students who graduate from the program transition into supportive employment.

In 2019, FOX 8 highlighted student Axel Hoy, who received job training thanks to the program at Orlando Baking Company in Cleveland.

The Lerner School reports Hoy found success after graduation and was hired.

“Seeing somebody like Axel and some other students that we know have so much potential, that’s what drives me to do my job,” said Gebura.

Although the focus of the program is assisting students prepare for the post-school transition, part of the goal is to help employers realize individuals with a disability are reliable and capable employees who, when given the chance to work, are successful and driven.

“Hopefully, there is a shift in our culture,” said Gebura. “At this point, with businesses being more open to employing not only the autistic community but also individuals with disabilities. They enjoy their jobs, and they enjoy giving back to the community and they want to be included.”

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