By: Robbin Beauchamp, Director
Do you know that almost 2% of college students have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? You may have ASD or know someone who does. Autism is a neurological disorder. “There are two hallmark characteristics of a person with autism: communication and social challenges, and an abnormal focus on a specific topic or interest (Gobbo, & Shmulsky, 2012).” For some people with ASD, they may take time to speak as they gather their thoughts. They may talk too little or too much or repeat themselves often. Socially, they don’t often read body language or understand social cues. Some people with ASD speak their truth without considering the effects of what they say has on others. They sometimes lack the empathy to consider their thoughts, actions or words. This can make it difficult for them to accept points of view that differ from their own.
Now, imagine a Wentworth student with ASD as they try to obtain a co-op. Interviewing is difficult and can evoke anxiety in most people. For a person with ASD, who has the social and communication challenges discussed above, the interview can be extremely difficult for them as well as the employer. Enter the ASPIRE@Wentworth program.
In fall 2016, Wentworth’s CO-OPS+CAREERS entered a partnership with the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Aspire Program. The Aspire program has been helping people with ASD for over 25 years and offers services such as camps, small groups for children and teens, adult programs and an internship program for those who have neurodiversity.
ASPIRE@Wentworth is a hybrid of their internship program, adjusted to meet the Wentworth Co-op Program. Any student who believes they will struggle to obtain or perhaps keep a co-op due to anxiety, stress, social challenges or communication issues is welcome to request participation in the program. Our students do not need to have a diagnosis to participate. Once our student has completed the application, they are matched with a Job Coach from ASPIRE, who is a mental health professional employed by Massachusetts General Hospital. On the application, students identify up to 10 employers where they would like to co-op. The ASPIRE coaches the students on successfully interviewing. Once hired by a company for a co-op, the ASPIRE Job Coach assists the student with on-boarding to ensure a smooth transition.
All ASPIRE@Wentworth students meet weekly on-campus (or virtually if co-op’ing out of Boston) for a seminar with the Job Coach to discuss their workplace successes and challenges and to learn more about behaviors expected at work. The ASPIRE Coach also works with the students’ workplace supervisors to provide education and support. Wentworth pays the fees for our students’ participation. Students who want to participate can obtain an application from their CO-OP+CAREER Advisor and should submit it at least six weeks prior to the beginning of their co-op semester.
ASPIRE@ Wentworth has assisted 12 students since we began it in the fall of 2016. One participant was offered and accepted a full-time, post-graduation position.
Read what this student says about his experience:
What made you participate in ASPIRE@Wentworth?
I wanted to participate in ASPIRE@Wentworth because I felt it was a good opportunity to obtain support while in the workforce. Due to my difficulty reading the unwritten social rules in an office environment, Aspire offered help to me deciphering the rules. I think the co-op program at Wentworth is a contributing factor for enrollment at the college, but for some students, such as myself, obtaining that position proved difficult. ASPIRE@Wentworth provided me with the opportunity to fully participate in the co-op program while offering me the vision to think about job opportunities after college.
How did participating in ASPIRE@Wentworth impact your co-op experience?
My participation in ASPIRE@Wentworth was mainly a positive one. I experienced some bumps along the road because of my difficulties with reading cues. I did, however, gain valuable experience in this area along with understanding the workplace better.
What did you think about the weekly meetings?
I thought the weekly meetings were generalized regarding workplace etiquette and at times, I felt it was difficult for me to imagine a situation to apply what I learned. The material provided was a lot for me to take in and I needed time to process the information. I do think however the meetings were helpful to me with transitioning from an academic environment to a professional one. I feel better prepared for the workforce.
Would you recommend ASPIRE@Wentworth to other Wentworth students and why/why not?
I would recommend ASPIRE@Wentworth. As a matter of fact, I’m happy to learn it is still offered. As I stated, for me, I needed additional support entering the workforce. I would think that students with a similar disability would benefit from the additional support as well. Collectively as a group, I believe we are capable to perform well in the workforce. I see it as a matter of an explanation of social expectations.
For more information on ASPIRE, go to the Massachusetts General Hospital website at: https://www.massgeneral.org/children/aspire/about/default.aspx
To learn from people who identify as having ASD, watch this video: https://youtu.be/B0Opl0HOWK8