The past four days at Upstream Arts have been a whirlwind of Teaching Artists, coffee breaks, and handouts. We’re just wrapping up our fall staff training and as I watched our TAs practice curriculum and test out different teaching techniques, I couldn’t help but be reminded of “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” an article that was published in the New York Times last Sunday. The article explores the world of autistic young adults as they enter the workforce and how their families and communities are coping with this transition. Justin, the main subject of the article, and his family are hoping he will be able to find a job that plays into his drawing skills and love of animation. This is a critical step in his ultimate goal, independence.

Upstream Arts classes, especially with transition age (18-21 year olds) and adults address this exact topic. We help participants develop the skills that are essential to obtaining and maintaining relationships with friends, family, employers and co-workers. Our Teaching Artists set up scenarios that participants could encounter in the community or at their job and help the participants come up with different ways to solve problems and interact with each other. These role-play activities are a very effective teaching technique for people with disabilities, especially those with autism, because they often lack the ability to navigate these interactions on their own. By providing an example of an interaction for them to watch and participate in, our TAs are giving them a script to use when they encounter these situations in their own lives.  These role-play techniques are discussed in the article and it’s great to see teaching practices that we so strongly believe in are being used across the country.  It’s exciting to know that we are part of this momentum.

The article also hit home for me on a very personal level, as my brother is almost exactly the same age as Justin and my family and I have experienced many of the issues that Justin and his family struggle with. My brother is 21 and was diagnosed as having high-functioning autism at age 4. Our lives, as Justin’s family discusses in the article, have often been focused on making sure that he has access to the best services possible. Luckily for us, when he was 20, he was offered a part-time job working for a local business owner who was looking for someone with a disability to work at his screen-printing business. My brother has been working there for almost 2 years now, gradually taking on more responsibilities, so that he was even able to graduate from his transition program early and focus more on his job. My family is very fortunate. My brother loves his job and his coworkers support and respect him. Justin’s family, and many others that we know, struggle daily to find a fulfilling job where their talents and abilities are nurtured.

For me, Justin’s story only further enforces the importance of the work that Upstream Arts is doing and I commend the New York Times for taking on such an important topic and really doing it justice. I hope it inspires an employer step up and give Justin or one of our participants the chance to test out these skills that they’ve been practicing.

-Written by Upstream Arts’ Administrative Associate, Gillian Spence