Unique Program for Adults with Autism Thrives in Westchase District | WESTCHASE DISTRICT

boys with autism at nonpareil in westchase district houston

While all adults face workplace challenges – like resolving conflict, collaborating with coworkers, and communicating effectively – for adults with autism, the career world can be particularly daunting. A Westchase District organization aims to help adults with autism be successful in the workplace through technical training and developing their social skills.

The nonPareil Institute (from the French word meaning “without equal”) opened its doors in Westchase District in 2015. It is one of four locations in the United States dedicated to teaching adults with autism the technical skills and work-readiness training to help them be successful in the workplace and in life. Director of Operations Tim Hornback says their students (nonPareil calls them “crew members”) must be at least 18 and have completed secondary education. No diploma or GED is required. “This is an open and accepting place,” said Hornback. “Most of our crew members are in their mid-20s. Our oldest is in his 40s.”

Individualized Learning

woman with autism coding on computer at nonpareil in westchase district houston“We really spend time getting to know a new crew member,” said Hornback. “The first 90 days of the program are introductory. We learn their interests, their skills, and what they want to learn. We craft the program around the individual. The last 90 days are a transitional period where we want to make sure they have all the skills to be successful when they finish the program.”

In between, crew members participate in one of four programs: Digital Art, Level Design, Programming, and IT Support. Those technical classes are combined with programs designed to teach executive function skills. Specific classes teach resume writing, interview skills, time management, communication strategies, and workplace etiquette. “We model workplace behavior,” said Andrew Morris, administrative assistant at nonPareil. “We help our students develop the soft skills needed to operate in the workplace. This includes things like stress management, emotional regulation, self-advocacy, and much more.”

Real-World Experience

The crew members in the IT Support program at the Westchase location earn real-world experience by staffing the IT help desk for all four nonPareil locations. Crew members developed a computer program that allows nonPareil to check-in visitors to its offices and classrooms. Recently, two crew members participated in NASA’s Conrad Challenge – a competition promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in technology – showcasing an app they developed, which uses artificial intelligence to coach young adults in interview preparations. Morris describes their work as a “chat bot that coaches in real-time.” The AI compiles a list of the most frequent interview questions across various industries and coaches the students through a mock interview. Meanwhile, a built-in camera allows the app to coach students to sit up straight or look the interviewer in the eye.

nonPareil’s newest program is called PowerSourcing. Area businesses engage nonPareil crew members to perform jobs for them either in-house or at nonPareil’s campus. Bloom Fitness, which offers in-person and virtual classes promoting health and wellness to intellectually and developmentally disabled adults, is a client of nonPareil’s PowerSourcing program.

Bloom founder John Watson engaged the PowerSourcing team to develop an app that would allow users of his program to take classes remotely and track their individual progress. “There is alignment in what they do and the population we serve,” noted Watson. “But even with that alignment and like direction, if we can’t get a product that works, that’s not going to work for us. They understood what we wanted and were really interested in helping us get there.”

“These opportunities give our crew members the chance to experience the world outside the building while they’re still receiving help and support from the nonPareil faculty,” said nonPareil’s Senior Engagement Officer Mercedes Milstead.

Now Recruiting

leaders at nonpareil in westchase district houstonTwelve staff members make up the nonPareil faculty. Three of them are former crew members. Currently, 75 crew members are participating in nonPareil’s 3-year program at the Westchase District location and they have room for more. Staff actively recruit at area high schools, particularly those that serve students with autism. The year-round program has four terms and is currently enrolling for the summer session starting in July. “We hope more people will find us,” said Hornback.

If you know someone who might benefit from the nonPareil program, contact Andrew Morris at amorris@npitx.org. Businesses that might want to engage crew members in the PowerSourcing program should contact Mercedes Milstead at mmilstead@npitx.org. Visit npitx.org for more information.

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