I met Geoff at Rosie s Cantina (his favorite restaurant) on a sunny winter afternoon. He introduced himself and told me about his love of foxes. When asked what he thought of the popular Ylvis song, What does the Fox say?, he rolled his eyes dramatically. He did not seem as in love with the tune as my class of 5 year olds. It appeared that he may even have found the song degrading to his beloved collection of foxes. I immediately decided that I liked his sense of humor.
Geoff grew up in Huntsville, Alabama and was diagnosed with autism in grade school. After high school, he struggled to gain independence and live a fulfilling life, as a member of a greater community. He lost a few jobs, and was having trouble staying in the game and feeling good about himself. This was a shocking revelation, as after meeting him several times I found him to be one of the most happy- go -lucky, laid back guys I have ever interviewed. When asked what he would say to other individuals struggling with a diagnosis, his eyes raised from the table in that precious few seconds of eye contact from someone with Asperger s, Just be yourself .
David Stidger, Job Coach and Owner of Open Door (www.adooropens.net), explained his mentor relationship with Geoff: When I met him, he was in a rut I guess Wouldn t you say? he asked, turning to Geoff for permission to broadcast this information, Now he has his own apartment, pays his bills, and has been working at Clementine s for over a year- right? It s been a year, right Geoff? David loves to brag about Geoff, and it is very endearing. Geoff beams at David s praise and downplays the compliments by acknowledging his struggles.
Clementine s is the darling of locally owned Huntsville eateries, with two locations in Five Points and one inside the Huntsville Botanical Gardens (www.clementinesusa.com). Geoff started a little over a year ago, at a catering job, where he served water and tea. When he first began working there, Geoff had a little difficulty getting along with other employees and working through different social scenarios. After completing coaching with David, Geoff not only learned the skills to keep his job, but even earned a promotion to Line Cook in their Five Points location. He has gone on to build relationships with his co- workers that are very appropriately founded upon affectionate banter. Given Geoff s diagnosis, this is no walk in the park.
There are currently 1.5 million adults living with autism in the U.S., and in the next decade an expected 500,000 more individuals will be entering adulthood with autism (Autism Speaks, 2012). This growing population of adults, with autism, faces the tedious challenge of independent living, managing finances and economics, and securing a career. All of these obstacles, for adults, begin in high school, where the present graduation rate stands at 56% for a student with ASD. The National Autistic Society survey lists that 70% of adults with autism are unable to live independently. Of this percentage, 49% live with family members and 32% live in residential care facilities.Further, the challenges for individuals on the Spectrum to maintain a job (once they have managed to secure one) are overwhelming, and many find themselves jumping from position to position, or experiencing long periods of unemployment.
The essence of Geoff s story lies in the way he has not only managed to successfully find a career and an apartment, but further how he has managed to maintain this lifestyle for an extended period of time, an equally huge accomplishment. When I asked Geoff if he has any advice for other adults on the spectrum who are struggling to find a job or become more independent, he responded with a big smile, saying Hire David! Geoff very graciously offers the credit for his success to Job Coaching through Open Door, and acknowledges that it was a turning point in his life.
While David may deserve the credit for career coaching, and Clementine s may take credit for the best Chicken salads ever, I think we all agree that Geoff deserves the greatest accolades for his success in living independently despite the challenges of his diagnosis. I don t know if anyone knows what the fox says , but I do know what Geoff s beloved collection of orange fur on top of his dresser conveys to him every night when he returns from work, We re proud of you .
A federal report claims that allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior were determined to be unfounded, when prisoners failed or refused to submit to lie-detector tests.
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