EVANSTON – Five students from New Trier, Evanston Township and Glenbrook High Schools recently graduated from Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism at Northwestern University, a one-year transition to employment program for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in their last year of high school. Throughout the year, the students spent time in a classroom setting at Northwestern working on skills critical to success in the workplace, including career and life planning, social communication skills, job skills and problem solving. In conjunction with their classroom work, the students took part in three 10-week internships within various departments at Northwestern to expose them to a variety of real life career options and job skills.
The goal for Project SEARCH students is to foster independence and self-esteem and to gain meaningful, competitive employment by the end of the program. Last year, the program had a 100% employment placement rate. This year the employment placement rate has been 80% with interviews ongoing. Successful employment placements this year have included Mariano’s, Wilmette Tennis Club and eWorks.
Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism at Northwestern University began in fall 2013 when New York Collaborates for Autism selected Have Dreams, a Chicago-area nonprofit that serves children, teens and young adults with autism, as its Midwest pilot site for Project SEARCH. The program is collectively funded and operated by Have Dreams, Northwestern University, New York Collaborates for Autism/Project SEARCH, the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Clearbrook, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and local school districts.
The curriculum for Project SEARCH was developed in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center with the goal of securing competitive employment for people with disabilities. This acclaimed model now has over 240 business-led, school-to-work programs across five countries and includes The Smithsonian Institution as one of its sites. New York Collaborates for Autism adapted the Project SEARCH curriculum to address the specific learning needs of individuals with ASD and launched its first site for Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism in White Plains, NY.
With locations in Park Ridge and Evanston, Have Dreams, which operates Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism at Northwestern University, has been in operation since 1996 and serves children, teens and young adults with autism through social and life skills classes, employment programs, diagnostic and family support services and specialized training for teachers. To learn more about Have Dreams and Project SEARCH Collaborates for Autism, see www.havedreams.org.