Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Give an autistic an opportunity and....

Shannon, Alex, Conor, Em, Amy

Yesterday, Alex celebrated his 1 year anniversary working at The Great Canadian Soap Company. He loves his job. He has worked 5 hours/day, Monday to Friday, since May 17th 2010. He'll likely soon work more hours in a day because they are busy enough to need him and he does such good work, whatever the task at hand.

Alex landed this job with the help of Tremploy. In the spring and summer of 2009 we met with Tremploy's staff and watched a short video that explained the many services they provide both here at their facility and through their Employment Assistance Service. We liked the services they offered through their Employment Assistance Service and so got the ball rolling to assess Alex's work skills as well as his job preferences. Along with a job coach he went to work at 3 different jobs, for 3 days each. He working in a grocery store, did landscaping at a church and worked in a cafeteria kitchen. He enjoyed all 3 jobs, preferred working indoors to outdoors, and displayed strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, in each setting. From there they went to work looking for a job that would be a good match for him. While he waited he was able to take some courses at Tremploy, like "Employer Expectations", to help boost his skills. Nothing really came along in 2009 and in the spring of 2010 the job development officer took a drive out to our area to see just what opportunities might be available in our area, rather than Charlottetown.

As fate would have it, Em, the owner of The Great Canadian Soap Company, was out for a walk that morning thinking about how she wished she had an employee who would do a number of tasks that her growing business needed done. Some of the tasks she had in mind were boring & repetitive, others required great attention to detail, some involved using machinery, some involved computer work. When she returned from her walk and her wandering thoughts, there was Tremploy's job development officer on her doorstep asking if she might have a place in her business for Alex.

Em Zember is to be commended for giving Alex the opportunity. She's certainly not sorry she did! But really, it is *opportunities* that we need more than anything. Autistics, when given opportunities, have proven themselves time after time. We can shine, brightly, given the chance!

Tremploy provided a job coach for Alex when he started work there. Billy was at Alex's side daily, quickly fading back and, within a few short weeks Billy had faded himself right back to Charlottetown and Alex was on his own. Billy drops out every month or so to see Alex (and the goats!) and see how everything is going and that will continue as long as Alex works there. If there were ever a problem or an issue that needed sorting, Billy/Tremploy would be there to facilitate.

Billy & Conor figuring out the new bottle filler - June 2010

I couldn't have invented a job as perfect as this one is for Alex. The work itself is as diverse as cutting soap, bottle feeding baby goats, computer data entry, packaging mail orders, labeling products, greeting customers and running the video presentation and on and on. His co-workers, especially Shannon & Conor who work closely with Alex on a daily basis, are wonderful and quickly learned to accommodate his communication issues and the rest of his autism. In fact, his autism is an obvious strength in this job - his attention to detail, appreciation of routine & repetition, focus on the task at hand, etc.

It's also just 5K from our doorstep. The odds of having a job that close, even having a business that close, where we live in rural Prince Edward Island isn't high. Most businesses in our area (and they aren't that close) are seasonal, based on tourism, fishing or farming. While the Great Canadian Soap Company does get a lot of tourist traffic at the Shop in Brackley Beach, they operate year round in the Shop and through the mail with a thriving mail order business.

Last summer I was dropping Alex off at work with my bike and he biked home. In February he started running home. This daily running is paying off now at his weekend passion - the PEI RoadRunner races. In the last few weeks he's set Personal Best times in his 5K, 10K and 5 Mile distances. This past Saturday he dropped 3:25 off his 5 Mile time, a time he set in 2008. The week before he ran a Personal Best 5K in 18:22. His 10K PB is now 40:03.

Em, his boss, is a runner too and he enjoys cheering her on at races. She's not the only runner in the family and recently her youngest 2 children ran their first 5K races at the Bunny Hop and the Proude's Shoes 5K.

Alex is still keen to get to work every morning. He takes great pride in all he does there, and loves watching his bank account climb as his running times fall. When Em showed her appreciation of Alex by hosting The Great Canadian Goat Run in November 2010 the icing truly was on the cake! As I said, I couldn't have invented, or even imagined (in my wildest dreams!) a better job for him.

I'm not going to plug their wonderful products here except to say - they hand make natural Goat's Milk Soap. If you want real soap, not the "Soap" (synthetic detergent) sold in stores today, or if you want or need 100% Natural soap & skin care products, with scents or unscented, check them out. While they do have products with "Fragrance Oils" they also have 100% Natural varieties (scented with "Essential Oils" or unscented) of everything they make. I never in my life expected I could be excited about soap but I am. I used their products (Alex gets a bar of soap with every pay cheque!) and was hooked. The more I learned about what's in mass marketed products and what's in the handmade products Alex and his co-workers are making, the more hooked I became.

Allow me to gently urge you to see what they're all about and show some support to a great employer. Here's how:

If you missed it, check out Alex's blog post about his "One Year Anniversary working at The Great Canadian Soap Company", including his "10 Great Things" about working there.

Alex has always been a ridiculously lucky kid and landing such a perfect dream job is really just in keeping with his life. Still, I want to send a shout out and thanks to the folks at Tremploy, especially Billy, and his boss and co-workers at The Great Canadian Soap Company - what a wonderful year Alex has just had. He's very much looking forward to this next one, and many more...


Unknown said...

Alex and Janet: couldn't be happier that Alex has found a job he loves. He is a lucky guy ... and it sounds like life is good!

Thanks to Em (Great Canadian Soap Company) and Tremploy for providing Alex with this opportunity!

Robert Hickman said...

Great post, it seams like Alex really likes his job.

People tend to make massive negative sweeping statements with regards to the capabilities of autistic people. In reality we are just as capable as anyone else, in our own way. Anything to spread positive awareness is always a good thing.