From Young Adults With Autism to Grown UPS With Jobs A structured UPS on-the-job training program helps young adults with autism prepare for life and work. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   February 01, 2018
From Young Adults With Autism to Grown UPS With Jobs
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for the ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for the ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   February 01, 2018
From Young Adults With Autism to Grown UPS With Jobs
The ASHA Leader, February 2018, Vol. 23, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23022018.28
The ASHA Leader, February 2018, Vol. 23, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23022018.28
Name: Pamela Hubbard-Wiley, PhD, CCC-SLP
Title: President and founder, LA Speech & Language Therapy Center
Hometown: Los Angeles
“Welcome to the UPS Store. How can I help you?”
A sharply dressed young man behind the counter poses the question clearly, politely and with excellent eye contact. Several other young men work around the room in what looks like a typical UPS Store franchise. Two look over the brand-new, wide-format printer, another carefully uses a paper cutter to slice symmetrical flyers, and several more huddle around a computer to finalize a print order design. They focus on their tasks, but the atmosphere is lively, thanks to an occasional laugh or personal exchange.
While this scene could take place at any UPS Store, these industrious young men work in a 440-square-foot space like no other. The first-of-its-kind UPS Store Workforce Training Lab is housed in the LA Speech & Language Therapy Center. And these polite, hard-working employees are all young adults with autism.
Pamela Wiley, who has focused on the comprehensive treatment of children with autism for more than 35 years, launched the 10-month UPS training program last spring. She invited 20 young men, ages 18 to 28, to participate. They’re all current or former clients—many since they were 5 or 6 years old—including one recent UCLA graduate. The program originated from the speech-language pathologist’s drive to teach her adult clients the social skills needed for employment readiness, as well as job skills applicable across various work settings. Wiley even published a manual on the topic. Her hands-on training approach has led to several clients securing paid internships or jobs in their area of interest.

“These types of social skills—greeting someone, a firm handshake, offering your name—you need wherever you’re working and even in everyday interactions.”

“I’m trying to get these kids meaningful employment,” Wiley says. “These types of social skills—greeting someone, a firm handshake, offering your name—you need wherever you’re working and even in everyday interactions.”
The project started in mid-2016, when the center hosted its annual community open house to bring together corporate, nonprofit and civic leaders. A UPS Western Region manager who attended showed interest in her job-training program for people with autism.
“Originally, I envisioned creating a mock store at our center,” Wiley says, “but a year later, with the help of UPS volunteers from all levels of the corporate structure, our center was complete and built to the exact specs of a typical UPS Store offering actual services.”
[caption for photo directly above] Jamie Feliciano, LA Speech & Language Therapy Center chief operating officer (far left), works on sorting mail with trainees (from left) Julian Crowley, Krystian Lee, Henry Nyguen and Miles Anderson.
[caption for top photo] Trainees Julian Crowley (left) and Alfred Brown check quality before cutting and laminating print orders.
Training and growing
UPS emphasizes thorough training for all employees and franchise owners. It also offers numerous continuing education options, such as a women’s leadership program and reimbursement for college expenses. Wiley appreciated how well the company’s highly structured training program fit with goals she and her staff already set for their clients. Many of her clients also got excited about the program—they had seen UPS trucks since they were young, and were familiar with the brand.
“I was able to adapt the UPS training tools to the participants’ unique needs,” Wiley says, “but still present the program with a speech and language focus.”
Participants in this inaugural training session learn skills that are key to the UPS customer-service culture, such as how to greet customers and close a deal. In addition, they work on social skills useful for getting and keeping any job: walking into a room with confidence, immediately giving their name when meeting people, offering a strong handshake, and being attentive to body languge. The SLPs use video modeling, video self-modeling, perspective-taking and reflections, among other techniques.
Wiley also hired a graphic designer—working at the UPS Store and at the center—who teaches the participants how to lay out posters, banners, business cards and other printing projects. Christian Marrero, the designer, just finished college and had worked at the center’s summer camps. Wiley feels graphic design knowledge can benefit participants in many settings, and the mostly male trainees appreciate working with another young man in a teaching role.
One of the most satisfying program results for Wiley—and the participants’ parents—is seeing friendships form and blossom.
“I think about how the world hasn’t always been kind to these kids,” Wiley says, “and I get so excited to see them come in with such ease with making small talk and showing interest in learning more about their co-workers—doing things they never did before.”

“I think about how the world hasn’t always been kind to these kids, and I get so excited to see them come in with such ease with making small talk and showing interest in learning more about their co-workers.”

Graduating and working
The first group of clients completed the 10-month UPS training program last month, after which the UPS Store opened. The store offers all the typical services—at no charge—from packing to copying and printing. Program graduates work 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. shifts on Tuesdays through Thursdays, with six to eight people per day. This unofficial store will remain open for six weeks to give the young men real work experience. Wiley’s center pays their hourly salary out of its intern budget. Family and friends of participants are invited to be customers and encouraged to tip for excellent service.
Many of the participants share their future dreams with Wiley. One took major initiative by approaching a local UPS Store on his own and getting a full-time seasonal job. Wiley found out only after he was hired. She called the store manager, who was worried about the young man not being able to work because of his training commitment. Wiley assured the employer that she would work around the job schedule so the young man could keep the job.
The UCLA graduate who participated in the program also has a success story. He completed a six-week internship at Xerox—which donated a new wide-format printer to the program—with support from Wiley. She held weekly phone calls with the young man and his supervisor to make sure expectations were clear on all sides. In these phone calls, the supervisor praised the young man for his strong work ethic and attention to detail.
And there have been other benefits. A corporate employee of a large convenience store chain learned about the program and wanted to find out more. The trainees’ newly acquired ability to merchandise—arrange products for sale in an appealing display to entice customers—led the company to discuss employment opportunities for the trainees.
Wiley believes SLPs’ work with people with autism naturally fits with preparing them for careers and life. She hopes these programs will inspire other SLPs to take a more active role in helping young adults secure meaningful employment.
“This store is an ideal treatment venue for SLPs,” Wiley says, “because you’re teaching the kids how to engage with other employees and customers to make a sale and get return business.”
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February 2018
Volume 23, Issue 2