All the Places You Will Go: Graduation Day
On this particular day, the art room transformed into a dressing room. Makeup was being applied, ties were being straightened, and shoes were being polished. Volunteers ran around, making sure their students were ready for a very special evening.
“You’ll curl my hair right?” asked Abirami to one of the passing volunteers. Abirami, along with 13 other students, had taken part in a 10 week Vocational and Employment Skills Program, and tonight was a celebration of all their hard work.
“I’m graduating right?” asked Abirami as her hair was being curled. Her volunteer laughed and replied that she would be graduating tonight. When she first came into the program, Abirami dreamed of a job working in a kitchen, and so she was placed in the Culinary Skills & Food Preparation group. Her peers, who had different interests, were placed in other areas of focus including Decor & Packaging and Office Administration. Throughout the 10 weeks, these various employment groups came together to hold events like the midterm evaluation party in order to apply their newly learned skills to real-world situations.
Unemployment is common among young adults and adults with autism. According to Stats Canada, 43.1% of adults with special needs are unemployed in Canada, and individuals with autism are 50% more likely to be unemployed than their peers with other special needs. These numbers are alarming, and they were the primary reasons SAAAC wanted to create an employment training program.
“It is such a wonderful program,” said a proud mother. “I was incredibly worried for my son after he completed highschool. I did not know what exactly he was going to do, but this program has shown me, and it has especially shown my son, that he has the capacity to work and to contribute.”
Autism is a lifelong disorder and therefore needs a life time treatment plan. Building essential life skills, community integration and employment should all be part of a plan that supports development in adulthood. The aim of SAAAC’s Vocational and Employment Skills Program was to continue the development of individuals with autism through job training and employment.
As the 14 participants made their way to receive their program certificates, it was an emotional moment for parents, staff, and volunteers. These were students who at one time were thought not to be capable of working, but with time, support and specialized training, these students have acquired job ready skills and have the support and confidence to start leading largely independent lives.