In today’s society, children and young adults on the Autism spectrum and their family members know all too well the challenges that can be associated with gaining independence and providing for oneself. Alex Peterson, an intelligent and determined twenty year-old, knows first-hand what it takes to help overcome the challenging obstacles his Autism presents. Although Alex is very independent, he experienced obstacles in finding a part-time job to help pay his way through college.
With a goal of one day working in the gaming industry creating video games, Alex enrolled in computer programming courses at Ozark Technical Community College to earn his Associates Degree in Computer Science and a Certificate in Game Development.
“I really wanted to find a part-time job because I wanted to gain some independence and I wanted to help pay for my tuition for college, so I could better myself for the future,” said Alex. “I was excited to learn about MERS Goodwill and the services the organization provided.”
Neither Alex nor his parents were aware of the services offered by MERS Goodwill before being referred by Alex’s Abilities First case manager and Missouri’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Abilities First is a nonprofit with the goal of breaking down barriers for individuals with a variety of disabilities. After being referred, Alex enrolled in MERS Goodwill’s Employment Program in January 2016. Through the program, Alex received specialized services designed to provide a comprehensive vocational evaluation and job placement assistance. The program also provides support and guidance to maintain employment.
Alex began a process called discovery and exploration to determine what sort of position he would enjoy that aligned with his work skills and abilities. Within two months Alex began working with his job developer Larry Click to create his master application and resume and train for professional interviews.
“Alex and I worked together to overcome his social anxiety and his communication skills,” said Larry. “By participating in RAP, our job readiness training classes, we were able to help Alex with his interaction skills. While he was hesitant and nervous at first, Alex soon found his voice and began to participate in the classes fully and even made a few new friends along the way.”
Due to individualized interview training that focused on responding to questions with concise, direct and positive responses, Alex significantly improved his communication skills and began to feel more comfortable in certain social situations.
“Before these classes, I was afraid I would not be able to find a job,” said Alex. “I came to MERS Goodwill with very low self-esteem, and at the time, I didn’t think I would be able to overcome my weaknesses and do well enough to become employed.”
Alex’s father added, “Alex’s confidence level began to rise throughout the training process and by exposing him to new social situations.”
After completing multiple job shadowing opportunities and working with Larry, Alex applied for a position at Walmart. Alex successfully interviewed with Walmart and soon began working part-time as a cart pusher.
“While I didn’t love working as a cart pusher at first, I learned to embrace my position and keep my eye on my end goal of working my way through school,” said Alex. “Since being employed by Walmart, I have moved to the lawn and garden department. In my new role, I continue to improve my communication skills and gain valuable experiences that will help me when it comes time to enter the workforce as a full-time employee.”
Today, while Alex is works toward his dream of being a game developer, he continues to thrive at Walmart. Alex recently began training to operate a cash register, where he received additional on-site job coaching through MERS Goodwill.
“Alex sets an example for everyone that works with him – regardless of ability or disability,” said Larry. “He continues to remind us that if you stay focused and determined, you can succeed in anything you set your mind to.”