Photo: Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash
Aspire Works is a program run by Massachusetts General Hospital that helps young adults that are high-functioning on the autism spectrum with the development of professional work skills. Autism affects anyone that is diagnosed with it in different ways, so the career counselors who work with the participants do their best to place the clients in an internship that is best suited for the participant’s needs and skill levels. I am a client of Aspire Works and the services this program provides are very useful to assist the people on the spectrum with learning how to communicate and advocate for themselves in a workplace environment.
At its core, autism is a neurological condition, meaning that it impacts how the brain processes information. That makes it harder for those on the spectrum to read non-verbal social cues and hold conversations. Since effective communication is very beneficial for success in the workplace, Aspire Works supports their clients in learning how to appropriately interact with co-workers and supervisors while being aware of the clients’ social challenges. The program also considers aspects such as the participants’ sensory issues, personalities, workplace environments, and what the participants are looking for in their careers.
Aspire Works uses a social communication model that they call the “3S” model to keep track of the clients’ progress. These skills consist of Social Competency, Stress Management and Self-Awareness. The Social Competency portion includes how to work and communicate with co-workers while being aware of the social norms of the workplace. The Stress Management portion includes improving the clients’ ability to cope with stressors while completing tasks and projects. The Self-Awareness portion includes working with clients on self-advocacy, as well as awareness of personal strengths and areas of improvement.
The clients in Aspire Works’ Internship Program can start working at age 18, after they have graduated from high school. Those in the program have the ambition to be independent. While they may be adept at certain tasks in a job, they may have difficulty understanding the social world, which carries over into the workplace. Fortunately, this is where Aspire Works comes in and helps the employers they work with in understanding the clients’ struggles and how to best assist the clients in reaching their highest potential as interns, and possibly, employees.
The program also includes a service called Aspire Seminar where counselors meet with a group of clients to discuss the interns’ experiences, progression, and areas to continually work on skills. This seminar also goes over resumes, cover letters, interview skills, priorities, organization, managing time, and coping techniques for handling stress and unexpected changes.
I sent in an application for the Summer 2019 cycle of internships and had an intake interview that went well. As a result, I was offered an opportunity to interview at a Bank of America in Boston to be a data-entry contractor. In the end, I was ultimately passed over for another candidate. However, I was given very good feedback regarding my interview skills, the Bank of America employee told my career counselor not to change anything about my conversational style in interviews. I did not end up securing an internship this Summer through Aspire Works, but I will try again in the Fall. Regardless, it felt very good to get that type of praise about my interview skills, which I will remember in the future.
Aspire Works is a program that is assisting a community of people who likely would have more struggles without its existence. Those that are high-functioning on the autism spectrum can be good interns and employees with enough positive support and constructive criticism from the career counselors and an empathetic supervisor. As a client of this service, I feel very blessed and self-assured that I will be able to make a good impression on an employer. And, going from the feedback I have already heard, I feel confident in my social skills as it relates to the workplace.
Michael Westwood is a 25 year old college graduate from Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Independent of being a contributor to Step Up, he is looking to pursue a career in professional writing of some type. His hobbies include watching professional wrestling (e.g. WWE and other promotions) and watching select TV sitcoms from today's television (e.g. Big Bang Theory, The Goldbergs) and classic programs as well (e.g. Seinfeld, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond). He also has an ongoing online forum designed to inform people about the autism spectrum called "Ask Mike," which is part of an autism awareness group called All 4 Autism, which is based in Florence, South Carolina.