Autism is a disorder of the brain across a spectrum of varying conditions, abilities, and unique strengths. To best meet the needs of people with autism spectrum disorder, the nonprofit organization Melwood has wide-ranging programs that provide a continuum of social and workforce development. These dynamic programs – serving ages 5 to 65 – have led to achievement and independence for program participants.
Camp Accomplish Begins the Road to Independence
The National Institutes of Health define autism spectrum disorder as characterized by difficulties in communication and social interaction, and by repetitive behaviors specific to each individual. These conditions make it difficult for many youth along the autism spectrum to gain new experiences and develop positive human connections, which are essential skills for independence.
Melwood’s Camp Accomplish begins the road to independence by paving the way for friendships to develop among children ages 5 to 18. At Camp Accomplish, about 65 percent of campers have autism. Camp provides a nurturing environment for children to work together and excel. In a series of weeklong summer camps, a wide range of activities allows campers to strengthen or gain confidence and open up their world, leading to positive outcomes throughout the following years.
Bridging the School-to-Work Gap
One challenge is the increasing number of young adults with autism spectrum disorder coming out of high school and into the workforce. Youth lose the support to succeed that they had in grade school, and are often on their own navigating college or jobs.
Melwood has stepped up to provide Workforce Development Programs for youth during high school and beyond that lay the foundation for employment, beginning with social and communication skills. Some of the techniques that Melwood applies are in response to what individuals say they need, helping them to narrow choices, and showing how one step at a time leads to the next.
Morgan is a good example. At age 19, she has high anxiety and concentration problems. She came into a workforce development program very smart, shy, and self-aware. She self-advocated noise-cancelling headphones, which helped her calm down and focus on tasks. Her success at self-advocacy, combined with the program opportunities she took part in, increased her confidence. Morgan now has a part-time job with a temporary agency and is completing an internship with Melwood as she develops workplace success. According to Morgan, “I’ve learned how to speak with authority, not to be too nervous to talk to co-workers, and when I need something, to speak up and advocate for myself. I’ve learned I can do anything by myself”.
“Watching Morgan and other young people flourish in our programs is like watching a rose blossom,” says Elizabeth Foster, program director of Workforce Development and Guidance at Melwood. “Given the right tools and support, many youth diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder can learn self-advocacy and be successful at living a life where they can define their own independence.”
The Heart of Melwood – Employment and Independence
Melwood employs 800 people of differing abilities at over 65 federal government and military contract sites and private sector employers in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, Maryland, and Virginia. Melwood’s Department of Vocational Support Services matches prospective candidates with employment according to individual interests, abilities, and needs for accommodation. Staff follow-up with employees and employers after placement to support job sustainability. Employment for many lasts until age 65 and retirement.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Please consider helping Melwood help people with autism succeed independently. When you donate to Melwood, you increase the positive impact Melwood has on the community.
Melwood is an AbilityOne organization, and one of the largest non-profit employers of people of differing abilities in the Northeast U.S. Melwood has a highly competitive and inclusive workforce, providing a range of services to federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector. Using an innovative and effective social entrepreneurial model, Melwood offers job placement, job training, life skills for independence, and support services to more than 2,100 people each year in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, Maryland, and Virginia. Melwood also provides recreation opportunities through seasonal inclusive camp programs for children and adults of and without differing abilities. In addition, Melwood provides employment and support services to veterans coping with a variety of service-related traumas, such as post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, abuse, and more. Melwood employs more than 1,500 workers, including nearly 800 persons of differing abilities. Since 1963, the 501(c)(3) organization has envisioned a world in which people of differing abilities are fully included by advocating for and empowering them to transform their own lives through unique opportunities to work and play in the community. For more information visit www.melwood.org.