Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism announces Show-Me Careers

Thursday, January 17, 2013 - Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism announces Show-Me Careers
JOPLIN, Mo.—Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism is one of eight sites throughout the state chosen to implement the Show-Me Careers project, an initiative created by an eight-member statewide consortium charged with bringing about change for developmentally or intellectually disabled young adults who are seeking employment. In Missouri, only seven percent of individuals with developmental disabilities are paid at or above minimum wage—far below the national average of 19 percent. Through Show-Me Careers, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism will work to improve employment options for young adults with autism. Lessons learned through this local effort will become a guide for other Missouri communities. 

“Finding employment can be very difficult for individuals on the autism spectrum,” said Jennifer Kirby, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism Clinical Director. “Many with an autism diagnosis have to learn how to seek out a job that suits them well and how to make the right interview choices. Likewise, employers often need to be educated about what to expect during an interview. Through the Show-Me Careers project, we will work toward positive employment for young adults with autism.”

Through the Show-Me Careers initiative, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism will improve employee engagement, family involvement, and youth development as each relate to the employment of young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. The center will seek out, collaborate with, and support businesses that are interested in this initiative, as well as teach families how to highlight the strengths of an individual on the autism spectrum and use those strengths in an employment setting. 

In 2011, the center added functional skills classes for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum. These courses—not readily available in the academic setting—focus on skills such as personal hygiene, relationships, community awareness, and self-advocacy, among others. Through the courses, clients are empowered to make their own decisions, have control, and participate in meaningful relationships. Several of those in the course participate in hopes of finding future employment, so Show-Me Careers will build upon that desire by focusing on prevocational readiness. In addition, the program will provide training for families to help the young adult recognize strengths, make plans for transitions, and promote him or herself to prospective employers. 

Three local businesses, Freeman Health System, General Mills, and Schreiber Foods, have already expressed their interest in the Show-Me Careers project. Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism will offer each an environmental analysis, develop strategies to meet the needs of the employer and individuals, and provide diversity training. 

“An autism diagnosis should never stand in the way of meaningful employment,” said Linda McIntosh, Freeman Volunteer Program Supervisor. “Freeman is honored to be part of this life-changing opportunity for young adults in our area.”

Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism was chosen to receive funding for Show-Me Careers through a competitive application process. The center will receive $65,000 to fund the three-year project. 

Members of the Show-Me Careers consortium include the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Associated Industries of Missouri, Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities, Missouri Development Disabilities Council, Missouri Office of Adult Learning and Rehabilitation Services, Missouri Office of Special Education, Missouri People First, and Missouri Division of Workforce Development. Funding for Show-Me Careers is provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living, and Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 

About Freeman Health System

Based in Joplin, Mo., and proudly recognized as the Best Hospital in southwest Missouri—as well as ranked #4 in the state—by US News & World Report, Freeman Health System provides comprehensive healthcare and behavioral health services, including cancer care, heart and vascular care, neurosciences, orthopaedics, and women’s services. The area’s only locally owned, not-for-profit health system, Freeman has more than 300 physicians representing 60 specialties serving southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma, and northwest Arkansas. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com or facebook.com/freemanhealthsystem, or follow Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer Paula Baker at twitter.com/freemanceo. 

About Ozark Center

An integral component of Freeman Health System based in Joplin, Missouri, Ozark Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults, and families in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the mental health needs of the community and promote awareness of mental illness in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit ozarkcenter.com or call 417.347.7600.