The fact that this day is so average is what makes it so important, says Alex’s mom Larisa. Because until very recently, she wasn’t sure it would happen at all.
Alex, who was diagnosed with Autism as child, has spent much of his life excluded from social activity with peers, his mom says. “Alex can’t really read social cues, so it’s tough for him.”
Work has posed more challenges. When Alex was working in a mail room as part of a school-to-work transition program, he became overwhelmed, walked away, and got lost.
“Then they put a full-time assistant with him,” Larisa remembers. “But they said, ‘We’re not sure he’s going to be in any kind of paid position ever.’ We didn’t have much hope.”
After graduation in 2020, Alex found a warehouse job through Northwest Center Employment Services, but he had trouble adjusting to an unpredictable work schedule.
The one bright spot in Alex’s week was playing Special Olympics sports. Then COVID-19 struck.
“When everything got closed down, he was crushed for months,” Larisa says. “He was not able to connect with anybody.”
Then, in late summer 2020, Northwest Center Employment Services got a call from Ben Adler, director of operations for Seattle-based coffee subscription company Bean Box. Adler was interested in hiring people with disabilities because his mother has taught special education for 20 years. “She always talked about people in terms of what they’re capable of doing,” he says. “Instead of focusing on disability, she focused on ability.”
Northwest Center Employment Services walked through the Bean Box operation with Adler, then brought several job seekers to the company to try out job tasks such as folding boxes, sealing candy into bags, and packing sampler boxes. Adler hired three Northwest Center clients in October 2020, and Alex was one of them.
The difference in Alex is noticeable, says Larisa. “He’s excited about his job, for a change,” she says. “When he comes home, he’s smiling.”
“It’s a big thing for Alex to be engaged,” Larisa continues. “At Bean Box, people are nice to him and he understands what he’s supposed to do. They treat him like a valued team member.”
That’s because Alex, and every other client hired through Northwest Center Employment Services, is a valued team member, says Adler. “We’re not just providing people with work; we’re able to get things done more efficiently because they’re really good at the things that they’re doing every day,” he says.
And while Alex still has job coaches as he works to answer questions and help him stay on task, these days he needs much less support.
“I am really, really hopeful that eventually Alex will be able to go in by himself, start the task, and finish the shift,” says Larisa. “Even a year ago, we thought that would never happen. But now I see it happening.”