Students With Autism Learn How To Succeed At Work When Kevin Sargeant was diagnosed with autism in elementary school, even his mother didn't think he'd ever hold a job. But that's all changed, thanks to a high school program designed to prepare autistic students for the workplace.
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Students With Autism Learn How To Succeed At Work

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Students With Autism Learn How To Succeed At Work

Students With Autism Learn How To Succeed At Work

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You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

People with autism often have a hard time finding and keeping jobs, so more and more schools are trying to make it easier. They're creating special programs to help high school students with autism get ready for the workplace.

NPR's Jon Hamilton has the story.

JON HAMILTON: A few years ago, things weren't looking good for Kevin Sargeant. Even his mother, Jennifer Sargeant, wasn't very hopeful.

Ms. JENNIFER SARGEANT: He was pretty much a broken child, the way I would describe it. We really didn't see that he would be able to go to college, even have a job. That just wasn't in our future for him.

Mr. KEVIN SARGEANT: I was very articulate, which was the weird thing. But, you know, I'd always have my head in my jacket and my hood up, and I wouldn't want to talk to anybody just because I didn't know what they were going to do. I'd always play with my Legos and, you know, I was rude all the time, and I had fits of anger and stuff like that just because I didn't understand people.

HAMILTON: Jennifer Sargeant took him in for testing and found out he had autism. That meant Kevin was eligible for special services. And his mother fought hard to get him into a school program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, which specializes in kids with autism and other disorders or disabilities. It's also one of the places that devotes a lot of time to preparing its students for jobs.

Six years later, Kevin is a lot more social. He's a good student and he's working as an intern in the IT department at the Parks & People Foundation. On this day, he's helping Jean DuBose set up a video presentation she's going to give to the foundation's board.

Ms. JEAN DUBOSE (Parks & People Foundation): We run it again just to...

Mr. SARGEANT: It's a WMV file. That means it downloaded to the computer. So now we should be able to play it offline if I can find the file.

Ms. DUBOSE: Okay.

[Soundbite of music]

Unidentified Man: This is our park.

Unidentified Child: This is our park.

Unidentified Woman: This is my park.

HAMILTON: Kevin says computers are a good fit for him.

Mr. SARGEANT: When you click something, something happens, and it happens for an exact reason. And, you know, there's no guesswork. With people, sometimes I'm not able to read facial expressions or take, you know, nonverbal cues or something.

HAMILTON: But Kevin needed a lot of help turning his love for computers into a marketable skill.

Derek Glaaser is the principal of Kennedy Krieger High School. He says the process began several years ago when Kevin was required to choose one of five industries to focus on as part of his education.

Mr. DEREK GLAASER (Principal, Kennedy Krieger High School): He chose information technology, and after his freshman year, has had information technology courses as part of his daily schedule.

HAMILTON: Learning about computers and software was the easy part. Glaaser said the program also taught Kevin skills that can be especially hard for people with autism.

Mr. GLAASER: Being able to accept directions from supervisors, work with colleagues, complete tasks, follow through on checklists, show up on time, dress appropriately.

HAMILTON: The internship at Parks & People has been a sort of final exam for Kevin, and Jean DuBose says he's aced it.

Ms. DUBOSE: It's been a pleasure having him. He's been great. He's quiet, but he works very hard. And we've enjoyed having him here.

HAMILTON: And Kevin says it's helped him to realize he really does have job skills that people need.

Mr. SARGEANT: I still have problems in some areas, like with anxiety and sometimes depression, but, yeah, I've definitely come a long way and I'm a lot happier.

HAMILTON: As for Kevin's mother, Jennifer Sargeant, nowadays she tends to say things about her son's future that make him squirm.

Ms. SARGEANT: Oh, the sky's the limit. The limit is his limit, I guess. It's how far he wants to go.

HAMILTON: Kevin Sargeant graduated from Kennedy Krieger High School last week. He'll start at Montgomery College this fall. Eventually, Kevin hopes to design computer games.

Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

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