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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Roses for Autism

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The work builds confidence, teaches critical decision making skills and fosters the ability to improvise and adjust to unexpected situations. For example, when sorting roses, participants must decide whether roses are good, okay or bad. “Bad” roses are discarded. The job requires learning how to maintain the balance between keeping quality roses versus producing enough roses to sell and be profitable.

To qualify for the Roses for Autism program, each applicant goes through an initial skills assessment and then must apply and interview for a position at the farm. Students are eligible to earn class credits, while individuals who have completed high school can become paid employees. Evaluations for interested individuals can be funded through the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, Department of Developmental Services, school systems or private sponsorship.

Beyond teaching technical workplace skills, Roses for Autism can dramatically improve a person’s social skills. The program is designed to encourage teamwork and interaction stressing the importance of cooperating with coworkers and supervisors in a business setting.

Lori Gregan, retail operations manager for Roses for Autism, explained that participants are encouraged to show initiative and has been pleased that most are eager and willing to try new things, even if initially reluctant.

“They really want to be here,” says Gregan, who shared several stories that illustrated the dramatic changes that participants undergo during their time on the farm.

She recounted one young man who refused to make eye contact with anyone for weeks when he started the program. Out of the blue, he asked to work the front desk where he would interact with customers. Another day when Gregan, overwhelmed with constant phone calls, was holding a phone in each hand, he gestured to take one of the phones and capably handled the call. From then on, he took phone orders and handled customer questions.

One of the remarkable aspects of the program is how often participants can go through a physical transformation, both in demeanor and in dress. There can be dramatic changes in their interactions with other people as well. Most participants have gained significant self-confidence, and many students have seen their grades rise as well.

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