Learning Academy Graduates First Class

The program, aimed at helping young people with autism, cultivates employment potential and provides support.


By Barbara Melendez

USF.eduNews Writer


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 5, 2010) – After high school, most young people with autism have had little to look forward to in the way of higher education.  The University of South Florida’s Learning Academy is helping to change that and is graduated its first class Friday evening at the Marshall Student Center on the Tampa campus.


The academy is a program of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute in the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences. Over a 30-week period it provides a structured job readiness focus for young men and women diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder between the ages of 18 and 25. 


Beyond academics, the program also provides services, supports and access to experiences that expand the students’ horizons.


“We identify our students’ strengths, their skills and talents, and we take into account their interests and determine how we can translate these things to the workplace,” said Susan Richmond, a consultant with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).  “We add in the things that help make anyone employable, goal-setting, time management, organization, conflict resolution and self-knowledge along with interviewing skills, knowledge of how to develop a resume and go about job-hunting. 


Instruction happens on both individual and group levels.  The topics covered over the eight months ranges from developing a job search strategy to understanding paycheck deductions and benefits.  Graduation from high school is required along with attendance at all classes, completion of assignments and projects and participation in mentoring time. 


“Our graduates leave with a clearly defined plan for gaining employment,” Richmond said. “And we follow up.  But getting a job isn’t completely new to them. They have completed the required internships and have had contact with peer mentors who also serve as role models. Employers couldn’t ask for better preparation on the part of a population that has a great deal to contribute to society.”


For more information about The Learning Academy, call (813)974-2996.