Real-world training

Saturday, May 10, 2008

In the 1990s, autism rates exploded across the United States. While many debate the cause of this epidemic, a generation of children -- as many as one in 150 children -- will grow up facing tough real-world situations. It's one of the toughest scenarios a parent with a special-needs child faces.

A fairly new program in Cape Girardeau called the Tailor Institute is designed to help teenagers and young adults with autism find their way in the world. The program was inspired by Taylor Crowe, whose orthodontist father, Dr. David Crowe, has been an activist in spreading hope to parents of autistic children. Taylor at a young age was encouraged by his parents to interact socially with typically developing peers and also pursue his talents. In Taylor's case, that was art.

Now the state-funded Tailor Institute is setting up autistic young adults with employers. Here at the Southeast Missourian, a young man named John Berry has shown himself to be reliable in an internship.

The goal is to help participants gain social skills so they can use their strengths to contribute to society, attain employment and improve the quality of their lives.

Started in 2006, there are five people -- three high schoolers and two college students -- who participate in the institute's skills training sessions or social outings. The institute is in the Southeast Innovation Center and operates like a clinic, with training and assessment by appointment.

Many autistic youths and adults are talented and intelligent, but need some help adjusting socially to become productive adults. The Tailor Institute so far looks to be a good investment. As the autistic children of the 1990s reach adulthood, programs that help them coexist in the work force will become even more important.

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