With the help of a supportive community and a specialized training program run by the University of Victoria, a Sooke man on the autistic spectrum has broken into the workforce with success.
Since graduating from high school two years ago, Ethan Ostropolski, 20, has started working as a newspaper carrier for the Sooke News Mirror, volunteers with Meals on Wheels, and recently started working at Pizzability making dough and fulfilling his dream of working with food.
All this may seem like the journey nearly all young adults follow after school, but for his mother, Sherri Palle, it’s a situation she thought her son would never be in, let alone thrive. Eighty-six per cent of adults with autism are unemployed.
”I’m still almost in shock that he is working like this, to be honest,” said Palle.
“My biggest dream for Ethan has been for somebody just to give him a chance because he is a hard worker, and he is so nice to be around. We just needed to break through that barrier of what people think he can’t do, so they can focus on what he can do.”
Many people with autism find they function best in situations with plenty of structure to help guide them. School is perfect for that, but when Ostropolski was set to graduate, Palle said she suddenly faced a situation where her son would not have any structure beyond what she would be able to create for him.
Work was another way to bring structure back into his life, but it can be especially challenging to develop the skills needed to thrive in the workplace. Enter TeenWork, a program designed to support people with disabilities or mental health challenges on their path to employment, and Ostropolski’s job coach Melissa MacEwan.
“Ethan and I started delivering newspapers together, and we learned so much about each other and working and professionalism and after a few months, he was doing it independently,” said MacEwan. “The jobs have given him so much purpose and connection. It’s more than just a paycheque.”
Beyond working with Ostropolski on resume writing and job interview skills, MacEwan also works with his employers to help them understand his needs and find accommodation solutions to empower him to meet performance expectations.
At Pizzability, MacEwan said the team was more than happy to accommodate his needs, and thanks to his experience through his previous jobs and the program, the central accommodation he needed was straightforward: a larger clock on the wall so he could make sure he was completing his tasks on time.
For Ostropolski, all of his jobs have felt like a match made in heaven. Delivering papers let him get outside and be physically active as he likes to be, and he said he always “likes seeing people smile when they get their papers.” As a pizza lover, working around it four days a week at Pizzability is never a bad thing, and he said working there has helped him feel much more confident and prepared for everyday life.
As his mother, Palle, said, she has undoubtedly noticed how much higher his confidence is and the benefits of all the socialization which comes from working with others.
“It’s important that everyone has an opportunity to participate and contribute positively in their community, as well as being employed so they can achieve a level of financial security,” said Palle. “In addition, having a job teaches them valuable lessons related to responsibility, reliability, independence, working with others, communication, and teamwork – all of which are important life skills.”