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Vocational Programs for Young Adults with ASD

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Vocational Programs for Young Adults with ASD

By Brigid Rankowksi
Autism Asperger’s Digest  July/August 2014

Vocational programs for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) offer similar services but have distinctive styles of delivery. Food for Good Thought and Max’s Positive Vibe Café are two excellent examples.

Food for Good Thought uses a process called “Discovery,” so the program organizer can learn about an individual through activities, interviews, and observations.

Food for Good Thought

Food for Good Thought is based in Columbus, Ohio. This program supports individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in vocational and employment opportunities in the Columbus area. They offer services to help an individual find employment in the community or in one of the job opportunities offered by Food for Good Thought. There is a gluten-free (GF) bakery connected to the program, and other handmade products like soaps or candles are made by program participants.

There are several services through Food for Good Thought that help an individual find a job that is right for him and then keep that job.

Customized Employment is a service that works with the individual to help him discover a job that best addresses his desires for employment. Each person has his own strengths and interests that need to be taken into account when it comes to career options. Customized employment counselors will help clients either identify a job best suited for the individual with ASD, or they will work to create a job position if the perfect job does not already exist. In this program, there is a process called “Discovery” in which the program organizer learns about the individual through structured activities, interviews, and community observations. The job seekers are able to choose traditional employment, self-employment, or another customized employment option that would make the best fit.

Career Exploration is a program designed to help the young adult who has multiple interests to explore work options in various fields. They are able to meet and talk to employees to better understand what these jobs entail. There are job-shadowing opportunities as well as chances to try a task associated with a desired job.

Job Development is a service that includes aspects of getting and maintaining employment. A client is given support to find a job position in the community that best suits his skills and interests. This service includes identifying and contacting potential employers and working with them to implement reasonable accommodations for the client. Job development includes helping an individual update his resume and assess interviewing skills.

One of the strengths of this program is the individualization of services. Food for Good Thought works with each person to address his individual needs and goals. There are testimonials on the website from previous participants who have found ideal job placements or created their own businesses in order to work in an environment where their special abilities can best be developed. Learn more about Food for Good Thought at http://foodforgoodthought.com.

The hands-on learning style at Max’s Positive Vibe Café helps participants navigate situations similar to those they will encounter on the job.

Max’s Positive Vibe Café 

Max’s Positive Vibe Café was founded in Richmond, Virginia, in 2002. This nonprofit organization’s award-winning training program helps prepare individuals with physical or developmental disabilities prepare for a career in the food service industry. This program has been effective in training over 400 students since its development. The café offers a wide variety of healthful, locally grown food to satisfy every palate. It also offers catering services. Everything from boxed lunches to formal, professionally staffed catering events is within their purview.

The idea for the café originated with a father looking to create a suitable employment situation for his son. He then realized there was a need in the community for a truly equal-opportunity employer and training program to help individuals with disabilities prepare for the workforce. Although the café was not successful in receiving grants to build the program, the local community stepped up to donate equipment, time, money, and services to build the restaurant and training facility.

Food service skills are taught in this program to prepare students for real-world employment. Specific technical aspects related to the food industry, such as proper sanitation and food safety, are taught to participants. By learning skills specific to a career field, participants are able to gain experiences to better promote future success in the workplace. The hands-on learning style helps participants navigate situations similar to those they will encounter on the job. Learning in such an environment helps reduce stress by creating a familiar and safe place for them to freely learn new skills.

Job skills like workplace communication and job-seeking skills are taught to help prepare the graduates for a career after training completes. The training program normally lasts four weeks, with a graduation ceremony to celebrate the conclusion of the course. Each graduate is then prepared to look for a job, interview, and work in the food service industry.

At Max’s Positive Vibe Café, over half of the employees are unpaid volunteers who believe in supporting this program. They work in capacities such as helping in the kitchen, doing clerical work, distributing menus and flyers, and spreading awareness of the program. There are 25 paid employees in the café, and more than half of them have either a physical or cognitive disability. Learn more about Max’s Positive Vibe Café at www.positiveviberva.com.


Brigid Rankowski is a freelance mental health professional, writer, and vaudevillian. She lives in Portland, Maine, with two roommates. She sees her autism as a unique part of her personality and promotes acceptance.

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2014. All Rights Reserved. Any distribution, print or electronic, prohibited without permission of author.

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  1. What a wonderful article. It is unfortunate that the needs of teens and young adults on the spectrum have not received the same amount of intensive attention that young children do. Our children eventually grow up and right now the services available to them are few and far between. Thanks for sharing 2 options.

  2. Antonia Guccione says:

    This is very exciting. For years I worked with students with disabilities in High School preparing them for the world of work. I conducted transition assessments and activities, taught career exploration and life skills, but also transitional skills, Language Arts, and basic math. I also co-taught various subjects.
    When students left high schools they had a document outlining their skills and which could follow them to agencies to help them find employment if they didn’t already have a job.

    Are you in the NY suburban metropolitan area of in the Southern Florida, Palm Beach area? I would like to learn more about your organization.

    Thanks for your time.

    Antonia Guccione, MS