April is Autism Awareness Month

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Did you know April is National Autism Awareness Month? Across the nation, people are encouraged to promote autism awareness, autism acceptance and draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year. At Opportunity Services, a local nonprofit that helps disabled adults find meaningful employment in the community, we will highlight clients throughout the month that have been successful embracing and overcoming their Autistic barriers in the workplace.

Meet Alex Steffl, an OS client in Rochester, MN is consistently surpassing his team’s expectations! A 19-year-old student in the TAP Program, a continuing education program for young adults with disabilities where they can learn real life skills and increase their work readiness following graduation, Alex is already maintaining a part-time job at the Dollar Tree with the assistance of Opportunity Services. Theresa Goerss, Work Experience Coordinator at TAP has seen Alex’s improvements firsthand. “One of Alex’s goals is to increase his customer services skills. I have seen Alex develop these skills through his employment at the Dollar Tree.”

Alex had previously worked at Chuck E. Cheese, but was no longer happy with his limited hours. Kevin Miller, Alex’s Career Counselor at Workforce Development, Inc., helped Alex obtain employment last summer, but noticed he needed additional coaching and support on-the-job. Kevin suggested Alex try the Opportunity Services Work Evaluation Program. “Alex’s progress is amazing and I am extremely proud of him,” says Kevin. “His entire perspective on the workplace has changed following his success at the Dollar Tree. Alex is making decisions with his employer in mind and is ready for employment after graduation.” Following the completion of Alex’s work evaluation, Kevin encouraged Alex to participate in the TAP Program and to continue on-the-job support from Opportunity Services.

The Work Evaluation Program with Opportunity Services is a one-on-one community-based work trial. The participant typically works at 2-4 different businesses in various job roles to figure out the participants’ strengths and weaknesses and what type of job would be the best fit! During Alex’s work evaluation, he worked at two businesses in Rochester: Best Buy and Dollar Tree. Chanell Calhoun, Vocational Evaluation Specialist at Opportunity Services was able to identify areas where Alex needed improvement before he could maintain a job of his own. “Alex has improved by leaps and bounds since we started working together!” says Chanell Calhoun, Vocational Evaluation Specialist at Opportunity Services. “At first, Alex needed to improve his communication skills and efficiency. Now he consistently gets back to me with needed job information and is even starting to assist new co-workers when needed.”

Currently Alex is cashiering at the Dollar Tree and he occasionally helps unload new merchandise. He has worked very hard to improve his communication and increase his speed while working. “Alex has truly broken out of his shell during his time here at the Dollar Tree,” says Fred Delaney, Store Manager. “The management and other staff members have encouraged Alex to speak with customers more often and it has helped him feel comfortable around the store.” While Alex is still learning new skills on the job, his improvements thus far are remarkable!

Thanks to Alex’s determination and his supportive team, he is thriving in his community-based employment and is well on his way to reach his goals! Even in his free time Alex is starting to take on more responsibility, managing his own air hockey tournament with friends. Congratulations, Alex- keep up the good work!