It was at this screen print shop that Gregory Patrick, a 21-year-old diagnosed with autism, took a giant step toward an independent adult.
“This is where I got my first paycheck – $ 31.53,” says Patrick, putting his hands in his pockets and smiling.
Patrick is the first employee at Gateway Ink, a t-shirt printing company owned by the Gateway Transition Center, a nonprofit aimed at helping adults with autism transition from high school to the adult world.
He does everything in the store – makes screens, puts ink on them to print shirts, and dries and folds the shirts.
“I want to make money,” he says. “It’s not that difficult, but it’s not easy.”
After two years of planning, Gateway opened an office in Central last month.
In the portable four-room building the center is located, young adults with autism can learn vital skills that will help them live independently, such as: B. Budget money, clean a house and fold laundry. You can also get your first job at Gateway Ink. Soon another program will connect them to jobs, offer advice, and help them thrive.
“The goal for people entering the program is to find a job that does meaningful work and to be more independent, whatever that means to them,” said Cassie Dinecola, CEO of Gateway.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that can make social interaction and communication difficult, and some people diagnosed with the disorder keep repeating small behaviors such as moving their fingers around or tapping.
Approximately 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed on the spectrum of autism, with the disability affecting many people differently. Some work well in classrooms and at work, while others need more support in the outside world.
“There’s a saying in the autism community: If you know a person with autism, you know a person with autism,” said Dinecola. “Everyone is different.”
According to a report published last year by the AJ Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, 66 percent of young adults with autism do not earn a paycheck or seek higher education in the two years after graduating from high school. Unemployment is a major concern in the autism community.
From elementary school to high school, many people with autism receive education and advice from schools. But that ends when they graduate.
“It has been described as falling off a cliff after high school because the services are no longer there,” says Dinecola.
In 2014 attorney Steve Whitlow founded Gateway. Whitlow, the father of a teenage autistic son, had studied programs nationwide to help young adults transition from school to the adult world, and Whitlow knew Baton Rouge needed something.
Two years ago, Whitlow’s family formed an advisory board to start Gateway. The board hired Dinecola last summer and located Gateway’s shore-based office and classrooms in the former Starkey Academy on Joor Road in Central.
The nonprofit receives funding from nonprofit foundations in the area, but also charges tuition fees of $ 2,500 for its six-week life skills courses. Scholarships are also available.
“My son is not participating yet. He’ll need it, ”says Whitlow, helping Patrick in the print shop. “But the church needs it.”
Gateway was exactly what Karen Tiner hoped for when son Gregory Patrick graduated from Arlington Preparatory Academy last year. Fearing he would get stuck at home, she enrolled him in the Baton Rouge Community College graphics program so he could find a professional salesman for his artistic skills.
“I never wanted to keep it within safe limits,” she says. “I think he should always be challenged.”
Last fall, Patrick was the first student on Gateway’s day program when Dinecola visited his house to teach him his life skills. He still takes life skills courses and works in the print shop on a regular basis, in addition to his courses at BRCC and other art classes. Over the past month, more students have taken Gateway life skills courses.
Jonathan Griener (27) and Joshua Cascio (23) sit at a dining table in Gateway’s office and count the play money. Your class this morning will focus on shopping and paying with the right amount of money.
You choose items from a table – a picture frame for $ 4.20 or a clipboard for $ 5.12. Griener, sociable and talkative, taps his head with a pencil while playing on scratch-off paper.
“You’re trying to give me the least amount of money possible,” Dinecola told Griener.
At Gateway, their day is filled with classes, exercises, and assignments that teach them how to clean a house.
“It’s great because I don’t get bored all day and I don’t hear my five dogs barking all day,” says Cascio.
Both men want jobs. You dream of living alone and sharing an apartment with a roommate.
You see Gateway as the first step towards this goal.
“It’s fun to get out of the house,” says Griener. “You can do things for yourself and be responsible.”
Editor’s Note: This story was modified March 13, 2016 to correct Gregory Patrick’s last name.