If you see a group of young adults in fluorescent yellow t-shirts and garbage pickers on Taylor Street, that’s Taylor Sweep. The internship program, run by Urban Autism Solutions (UAS), is designed to help young adults with autism and related challenges gain transferrable job skills. UAS serves this population with residential, social and vocational opportunities.
ABOVE: Taylor Sweep on the scene... (too cold for t-shirts today!)
Students from West Side Chicago public high schools participate in Taylor Sweep through the UAS West Side Transition Academy, which opened in the Little Italy neighborhood in 2019. There, they receive services complementary to those provided in their public schools, including speech-language and occupational therapy, social-emotional learning. They also get the chance to participate in vocational programs like Taylor Sweep.
Groups of two to eight students, along with a UAS supervisor, hit the neighborhood picking up trash along and around Taylor Street between Ashland and Halsted Street. Each group spends between one and two hours outside. Groups leave from the UAS West Side Academy after getting together their gear: garbage pickers, gloves, garbage cans and garbage bags. As they work, they are building transferrable job skills, like showing up to work on time and in uniform, communicating effectively and following directions.
"I like working to help keep the community clean," says Kasandra, a student at the Ray Graham Training Center. Kasandra has participated in Taylor Sweep since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
Taylor Sweep is subsidized by Urban Autism Solutions and the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association.
Young adults with autism have the lowest rate of employment compared to their peers with other disabilities, with only four out of 10 working in competitive employment in their 20s. Almost half of young adults with autism don’t have a job within two years of leaving high school.
Taylor Sweep is just one way that Urban Autism Solutions helps prepare young adults with autism and related challenges for work. UAS also provides job-readiness training through its 1.2-acre Growing Solutions Farm on the West Side.
Students from West Side Chicago public high schools come to the farm to learn about urban agriculture while practicing general skills they can use in competitive employment. While not every student at UAS is job-ready or will be, for those that are ready to work, the UAS jobs team helps students find jobs.
The process is not always easy. UAS must first identify employers willing to hire students with autism and related challenges. Then, UAS helps students prepare their resumes, fill out applications and practice their interviewing skills. Following their job offer, UAS works with students for up to two weeks to job coach them and ensure there are no glitches for the student and the employer. Students generally find employment in grocery or retail stores.
For students that aren’t or may not become job-ready, UAS programs benefit participants by helping them build life skills that will help them lead more independent lives after leaving high school.
“Every student we help connect to employment not only bucks a trend of high unemployment, but when we connect a student to work, we are also helping to prevent the social isolation that often goes hand-in-hand with unemployment for these students when they age out of school.”
Students with autism and related challenges in Chicago public schools can attend school until the end of the year in which they turn 22 years old. At that point, services they received through school stop. Many students who don’t find work remain at home and at risk for depression.
“Taylor Sweep is really a trifecta program,” says Tarczan. “It helps students gain skills they can use at any job, students serve as Urban Autism Solutions ambassadors to the community with their highly visible, fluorescent yellow Taylor Sweep t-shirts, and they keep our immediate community in the Little Italy neighborhood clean and beautiful.”
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Since its establishment in 2012, Urban Autism Solutions has served more than 1,000 young adults through innovative, person-centered programs that focus on the acquisition of life skills, community integration, social interaction, and vocational training. Whether we are serving West Side Chicago public high school students at our UAS West Side Transition Academy or at Growing Solutions Farm, or offering opportunities to the broader autism community for socialization through Network 1212 or our other programs, UAS believes that all young adults living with autism and other learning differences are valued members of society.