OUCARES’ training program wins regional award

Kaley Barnhill, Staff Reporter

While striving to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their families and our community by providing quality and comprehensive programming across their lifespans, The Oakland University Center for Autism Outreach Services (OUCARES) acts as a catalyst for assisting individuals and their families living with ASD.

OUCARES recently won the award for community engagement from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA).

“I was very grateful and excited to learn that OUCARES’ Pre-Employment Skills Training won the Regional UPCEA Engagement Award,” said Kristin Rohrbeck, the director of OUCARES.  “We have put a lot of time and effort to develop the program over the past two years, and it was an amazing feeling to know that others are recognizing our hard work and the huge impact that the program is making in the lives of adults with autism.”

The program originally started in 2004, but began in its current form in 2016. This makes winning the award even more prestigious.

“We are very fortunate to have had the support and advice of experts at Oakland University and in the community to have shaped the program into what it is today, and we are all very proud for this recognition,” Rohrbeck said. “OUCARES looks forward to developing our programs even more into the future.”

In recent years, the program has been working with adults who are living with ASD, to train them to enter the workforce.

“Skills we teach to teens and adults can vary greatly depending on the needs of the individuals,” Rohrbeck said. “However, in general we work on social skills, communication and independence. These general areas can be broken down further in many ways. For example, we can break down social skills instruction into teamwork and collaboration, accepting constructive criticism, social boundaries, how to appropriately greet someone and so much more.”

According to Rohrbeck, this is especially important since autism is typically thought of as mainly a disorder that affects children. As a result, not enough work goes into helping adults who continue to need more education and support.

She reported that 60 adults with autism have completed the Pre-Employment Skills Training since it began in winter 2016. Over 60 percent of these participants either found a job during the program or within three months of leaving it, or have gone on to higher education to propel themselves closer to their career goals.

“I have seen the adults who participate in this program build the confidence, knowledge and understanding necessary to gain and maintain employment,” said Caroline Gorman, OUCARES coordinator. “At the Pre-Employment Skills Training, participants learn to navigate social situations, and gain a better understanding of what jobs and careers are a good fit for them and the steps necessary to obtain their goals.”

The program can also be beneficial for the parents of the adults who are enrolled in the program.

“OU is very unique, and I would argue very lucky, to have such stellar autism community outreach services on campus,” Gorman said. “I am proud to be a part of such an impactful program.”

If you are interested in getting involved and volunteering, visit oakland.edu/oucares or email [email protected].