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Project Warren County helps students with autism

The transition from school to work can be daunting for anyone, but Kris needed extra support as he faced communication, behavior and sensory challenges.

He recently interned at the University of Cincinnati’s recreational center, cleaning workout equipment and learning the skills needed to succeed at work as a young adult with disabilities — all through Project Warren County, a partnership between the Warren County Educational Service Center and the college.

“(Kris) made tremendous gains in his ability to work independently for longer periods of time, independently monitor the quality of his work, appropriately socialize with peers and improve time management skills,” said Christina Even, director of special education for the Warren County Educational Service Center and UC adjunct professor.

Kris graduated from the program in May 2016 and currently is working at his local YMCA cleaning their workout equipment.

Successfully helping young adults with autism spectrum disorder like Kris transition from school to independence is at the heart of Project Warren County.

Started in August 2015, the program educates Warren County student interns, ages 18- to 22-years old, with autism spectrum disorder and other low incidence disabilities that present with intense needs in the areas of communication, behavior, sensory, and executive functioning. They attend classes at UC twice a week.

Because of their intense needs, their behaviors are often considered inappropriate for a community or workplace setting. However, rather than discounting their inclusion, Project Warren County seeks to use sensory integration and self-management strategies with a high staff-to-student ratio to teach the appropriate skills for success, Even said.

According to Christi Carnahan, Advancement and Transitions Services Director and Associate Professor of Special Education at UC, the program allows the students to interact with peers their own age while focusing on employment readiness, independent living, social communication and high-school graduation requirements. They complete on-campus internships and attend non-credit university courses in their area of interest.

Even said the student interns participate in health and wellness activities, social outings with peers, and work development activities like housekeeping, making deliveries and assisting with Meals on Wheels.

“Project Warren County is an important program to ensure that young adults with disabilities that present with intense needs can have access to opportunities to determine how their interests and abilities can be applied in the work place and learn the necessary skills to increase their ability to live and work as independently as possible,” she said.

The program also is beneficial for those businesses who hire the students upon their successful completion.

“Employers benefit from partnering with programs like Project Warren County, because they gain potential employees who are hardworking, detail oriented, focused, talented and dependable,” Even said.

Currently, nine students are enrolled in the program. Even said their length of time in the program depends on each student’s needs and transition plan.

            Project Warren County helps students with autism

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