Letter to the Editor: May, WORK Inc. form Center for Integrated Adult Autism Services


Published in the "Viewpoints from Across the State" section of The Provider newspaper (April 2017)
By Eileen Pollack and Sharon Smith

Randolph, Mass. – 
May Institute and WORK Inc. have formed an unprecedented collaboration bringing their unique core competencies together to provide an integrated solution to the clinical and employment needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) entering the adult service system. The result is the new Center for Integrated Adult Autism Services (CIAAS).

Children diagnosed on the autism spectrum—now thought to be one in 68, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—will need to become as self-sufficient and independent as possible, particularly as their parents become older and are unable to care for them. Some national studies have pegged the number of adults with autism in the U.S. to be at five million. A Drexel University researcher last year reported that over the next decade, 500,000 young adults with autism will age out of publicly funded day and residential programs nationwide. 

Leaders at May Institute and WORK Inc. took action after reviewing provisions in the Autism Omnibus Law passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2014. That legislation enabled the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to expand the eligibility criteria for those seeking services to persons with ASD, Prader-Willi and Smith-Magenis Syndrome diagnosed before age 22. The law also increased the level of help people could get if they were deemed to have "substantial functional limitations" in three or more of the following areas of major life activity: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, capacity for independent living and/or economic self-sufficiency. 

As a "center without walls," services are provided at the point of need. Experienced clinicians work with participants in the program and employ the principles and methodologies of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Applied Behavior Analysis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy to meet the unique needs of the individuals they serve. Included are individuals with a diagnosis of ASD and co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The center's clinicians also provide training to staff from DDS, service providers and family members who need additional support. 

Employment services include a suite of customized employment strategies that use a strength-based approach such as Personal Discovery, an affirmative alternative to traditional assessments, that identifies and validates interests, skills, talents and conditions of success that will need to be met to help the individual engage and progress in a career. 

The goal of the CIAAS is to equip individuals with the skills, resources and supports they need to live and work successfully in their communities throughout the state. Last July, the CIAAS team—consisting of May's Director of Clinical Services Justin Kelly and WORK Inc.'s VP of Employment Services Eugene Gloss, Career Development Specialist Anita Davis Thompson and Residential Vice President Rohan Wickramaratne—consulted on its first referral, a complex young man with ASD in significant crisis. Six short months later, this 24-year-old is clinically stable, engaging in employment services and, in December, moved into a perfect shared living home. This success is directly attributed to the integrated service approach of this incredible team.

''Today, we face an overwhelming number of individuals with autism who are aging out of educational programs but still in need of continuing services and supports," says May Institute President and CEO Lauren C. Solotar. ''These young adults are confronted with daunting challenges as they transition into adulthood - challenges such as finding appropriate housing and services, securing meaningful employment opportunities, and building a full and integrated life." 

WORK Inc. President and CEO James Cassetta says the CIAAS is positioned to help those young adults find success because of the nature of his agency's collaboration with May Institute. "Our state-of-the-art evidence-based strategies are geared to ensuring employment success. We have an outstanding track record of matching the skills and unique abilities of the individuals we serve to the needs of the many employers who partner with us,'" he says.

The collaboration between the two organizations is flourishing. In January, the partnership was awarded the prestigious Kessler Foundation's Signature Employment Grant to launch an innovative Meaningful Jobs Initiative that will prepare individuals with ASD to work in the security industry. 

The issue of providing support to these young adults is real, and most experts agree that it will only intensify in the coming years. This program is demonstrating ways in which those supports can be extended for future success. 

Eileen Pollack is the Senior Vice President for Communications at May Institute and Sharon Smith is the Chief Operating Officer at WORK Inc.
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