District program helps students with autism transition from school to work

In order to grow, plants need water and sunshine, but to flourish, they need nutrients, and someone to care for them.  In many way plants are a lot like people.

Peter Stadelman is a team leader in the garden center at Molbak's in Woodinville.  A few days a week, he works with a young man named Ayden.

"We employ a lot of different types of gardeners here and customers respond quite well to him.  He's good with customer service, " says Stadelman.

Ayden is on the autism spectrum and an internship at Molbak's gets him one step closer to where he want to go.

"I want to live in (an) apartment with roommates," says Ayden.

As a student in  the Northshore School District's Adult Transition Program, Ayden is learning the skills he needs to live on his own, and be independent.

Shannon Hitch, the Director of Secondary Special Education in the district says, "Our kiddos do three internships throughout the course of a school year.  Each one lasting about 12 weeks."

In the classroom, students focus on job readiness. They practice ho to get to work using public transportation, fill out job applications and prepare for interviews.  They even plan out what to wear to an interview and how to shop for it on a budget.

"We have students in job internships who are in wheelchairs and are non-verbal and need daily medication and living care.  We have students with Autism who are capable, but struggle with social nuances, " says Hitch.

When young adults turn 21-years-old, services offered through the school district end for students with special needs.  The transition program fills that vocational gap, acting as the glue to connect these young adults with local businesses and eventually jobs.

Hitch says, "We try and tailor those jobs to highlight their strengths and also to stretch them a little bit and find the right fit."

Kristi Stockdale says her son Mark was diagnosed with Autism when he was 3-years-old.  She credits the transition program for giving her son an identity.

"For Mark, I think it's important for him to be able to say not, I'm a person with Autism, but I have a job," says Stockdale.  Her hope is with the skills Mark is learning, he'll be ready to pursue his dream job, working on a train.

Stockdale says, "His dream would be to be a coach cleaner for an Amtrak train and that's actually now a possibility for him."

Ayden knows hard work now is planting a seed for his future.

Shannon Hitch says nearly 100% of the students who complete the program go on to jobs, which is something they're very proud of.