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Thompson Center’s newest program on transition welcomes job seekers and renowned self-advocate

COLUMBIA — The Thompson Center welcomed its first cohort of students in its program called STRIVE, or Self-determined Transition Readiness and Vocational Experience, which provides direct instruction using a specialized curriculum, job shadowing, peer mentoring and work experience through the University of Missouri for individuals with autism transitioning to adulthood.

This fall, five young adults ages 18 to 24 joined the STRIVE program’s first semester on MU’s campus to receive classroom instruction in job-related skills, such as interviewing, resume-writing, and interpersonal interactions on the job. They’ll also be mentored by peers at MU and shadow employees on the job to understand their

In the spring semester, participants will work in various departments at MU based on their individual skills and strengths, earning valuable work experience tosupport their future job searches.

“The ultimate goal is to support participants in finding meaningful employment as adults, and having work experience on their resume can show potential employers a successful job record,” said Maya Tarter, transition coordinator for STRIVE.

The program also brought a renowned national speaker on autism self-advocacy, author Aaron Likens, to give a public lecture on his experiences as an individual with autism. Many of the STRIVE participants were in the audience of about 50 attendees.

Likens’ blog, “Life on the Other Side of the Wall,” and book Finding Kansas echo his message to young adults during the presentation: not to let autism define them or their potential for finding meaningful work and relationships throughout their lives.

“Aaron’s message of self-determination mixed with humor and personal stories captivated everyone at the presentation,” said STRIVE program coordinator Cortney Fish. “STRIVE participants found themselves able to relate to Aaron’s experiences and challenges, but most importantly participants walked away with the message that their autism does not define who they are or what they can become.”