Unique summer internships from Project SEARCH

I am pleased to introduce Susan Feider-Kelly as a guest blogger today. Susan is a member of the Project SEARCH staff here at Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin, and she has a special summer to share with you.

Can’t think of a better way to spend a summer

by Susan Feider-Kelly

With autumn upon us now, I have time to reflect on the past summer. I spent most of it with five young people in a Project SEARCH program at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. This pilot project was geared to the needs of young adults on the autism spectrum, and the primary focus was awareness and improvement of workplace communication and social skills.

The Project SEARCH staff and Easter Seals Autism Department staff worked in partnership to deliver a unique summer internship. Before the program even began, an Easter Seals Behavior Analyst from our Autism Service team assessed each intern and suggested strategies to help each intern adjust to the expectations of the workplace. After a few days of orientation, the intern began their rotations in various areas of the hospital. Here’s a list of the interns and how their rotations worked:

  • Collin worked in one of the Children’s Hospital Clinics. His primary task was the quick turnover of exam rooms after a patient left the clinic. Collin quickly mastered that task and was soon trained to stock medical supplies and sanitize blood pressure cuffs. The clinic staff came to depend on him and commented on his growth in asking to do more.
  • Dan had expressed an interest in improving his data entry skills so his placement in Inpatient Data Entry was a good fit for him. He learned to navigate electronic records entering patient information. Dan sharpened his problem-solving skills as he had to decipher the handwriting of several nurses. He dived into some organizational projects for the department that had been on their to-do list for a long time.
  • Justin said that he wanted to work with his hands, so he was placed in Facilities Operations. He quickly became their “electronics specialist” and was relied on to test new gaming systems as well as new video games. Needless to say, Justin really liked his rotation! He didn’t play games all day, though! He was part of a team that was changing every soap dispenser on campus. Justin prepped 1000+ soap dispensers before they were installed, and he tapped new talents working a cordless screwdriver to attach the handles to nine new wagons for the kids at the hospital.
  • Marquis was looking for marketable job skills, so he was placed in Environmental Services. He worked with a trainer to learn quick cleaning in the clinics building. He cleaned restrooms and common areas. Marquis learned the sequence of tasks and became a valued team member.
  • David liked to be active and was placed in the dish room. He excelled as a pot-scrubber and was able to load the dish machine at an appropriate pace. By the end of the program, David was demonstrating independence and initiative.

In addition to the work in their rotations, the summer interns spent time each day in the training room with me and a staff member from our autism department to process what they were learning as a group. Each intern learned about the “unwritten” rules of work that challenge us all. We talked about how to take feedback from our supervisor and colleagues, how much information to share about ourselves and our personal lives. We talked about managing a relationship with our supervisor.

Each intern learned new strategies to manage the daily stress that comes with a job. These “soft skills” and strategies will be invaluable as David, Marquis, Dan, Collin and David head out to join the work world. I can’t think of a better way to have spent the summer than working with these young men and opening new possibilities in their lives.


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