April is National Autism Awareness Month, each week we are introducing some of the remarkable people with autism working at PRIDE Industries. Today you will meet Ryan, a young adult with Asperger syndrome (AS). AS is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a distinct group of complex developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASD are affected in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe.
Ryan Edwards, 21, is a Hand Packager with PRIDEs’ Supported Employment group at TASQ Technology in Roseville, Calif. PRIDE’s Supported Employment Program partners with a wide variety of local businesses to meet their contracted workforce needs while creating community based jobs for people with disabilities.
Ryan received job training at a PRIDE work site first, where many people with disabilities start their path to employment. Our structured approach provides a support system that includes Job Trainers, Case Manager/Counselors, and Supervisors who understand each person’s disability and are able to help with their day-to-day challenges. This young go-getter did very well in his first phase of training. After a few months, he was approached with an opportunity to substitute-in for a day at TASQ. His exceptional performance and enthusiasm at TASQ earned him permanent placement within the Supported Employment group at the company. Although he is working off-site, he continues to receive supportive services. Ryan receives case management and counseling, and has a Job Trainer on-site working with his group.
Ryan is a great example of PRIDE’s efforts to build upon the skill levels and aspirations of the people with disabilities we employ, helping create a path to independence and greater self-reliance. In a few months, Ryan will celebrate his one-year anniversary as part of the off-site group. His next goals are to increase productivity and concentration levels, and eventually work in the community, preferably within the zoology field.
“His attitude and stamina have improved, and he thoroughly enjoys the work and challenges he receives from his assigned job tasks at TASQ,” Justin Underwood, Ryan’s Case Manager and Counselor, says. During our interview, Ryan explained the work processes that have helped him increase productivity, and enthusiastically told us, “I am at 67%, which is almost to the maximum!” He also devised and implemented a strategy to manage his station, which in turn enhances his performance output. Ryan’s system consists of stacking boxes upon boxes at his packaging station.
Ryan has overcome a variety of challenges, not only at work but in his personal life, too. First was his speech impediment. At the age of five, he was barely able to speak single words, but significantly improved with a speech therapist. Children and young adults with autism like Ryan may have communication problems, including limited speech, or difficulty expressing basic wants and needs. Looking at him now, you would never know he has encountered such an obstacle; he has a remarkably positive attitude and expresses himself well.
Later, as a teenager, he dealt with the death of his biological father due to brain cancer. “To learn he had cancer was devastating,” Ryan says. After a long silent pause, he continues with, “but, at least he left a few good memories with me.” His two favorite mementos are a replica of a Megalodon, a prehistoric shark tooth, and a large Star Wars Lego set. Just like anyone, people with autism process grief in different ways. Here is a link to one mother’s touching story of autism and grief. Ryan honors the memory of his father by collecting large Lego sets, which is something he and his deceased father did together.
Ryan also enjoys watching movies; “The Blind Side” is one of his favorites. He is a 49ers fan; however, his favorite player is Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens. “The Blind Side was very moving, and watching him (Michael Oher) play in the Super Bowl was incredible,” Ryan says.
Much like his favorite football player, Ryan has endured challenges, but with persistence and support, he is tackling his dreams head on and reaching for the victory line!