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Matt loves a simple tune

and it amplifies his commitment to his work!

When STARS Job Placement Coach, Jessica “Jessie” G. used her musical skills of nearly 20 years to help her client succeed, a triumphant crescendo was heard. Matt B. sat up taller and became more invested in his job.

From October 2023 through the new year, Jessie worked closely with Matt as part of the STARS’ Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) program.  This program, tailored for individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities, provides personalized vocational services with trained staff. Matt, diagnosed with functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a learning disability, secured a position as a service assistant at The Creek Patio Grill in Cave Creek.

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Initially, Matt encountered challenges in task completion due to his autistic scripting behavior, where he would repetitively recite dialogues, phrases, or lengthy narratives. Jessie reflects on the emotional journey, noting, “It gets emotional for me because I can truly see his confidence grow.”

With the unwavering support of Jessie and The Creek Patio Grill management team, there was a significant breakthrough. In January 2024, Matt successfully transitioned from the CIE program to the Independent Employment Support (ISE) program within STARS’ Community-Based Employment Support program. The ISE program provides extensive assistance during the first year, with an optional second-year extension, facilitating a smooth transition for participants completing the CIE program.

Matt’s venture at The Creek Patio Grill kicked off with Jessie guiding him in honing his job responsibilities, such as rolling silverware and wiping down tables. While Matt’s ability to recall conversations verbatim is noteworthy, Jessie points out the challenge of managing “verbal overload,” making it sometimes tricky to redirect his focus to complete work duties. Surprisingly, the power of the song proved enticing enough for Matt to meticulously fold napkins and securely arrange silverware, a marked improvement over his previous hastiness in completing the task.

“He was definitely conservative about the way he did things and wanted to be prompted…but after a certain amount of time, the muscle memory started working,” she explained, who remains determined to continue helping Matt succeed in a world where he’s been told more of what he can’t do instead of what he can do.

“With any client I’ve ever worked with—whether they have an intellectual disability or on the spectrum—they are the most authentic people I’ve ever met,” she says. “They’re also the bravest because what they’ve faced their entire lives isn’t easy. They’re braver than I ever could be, and they will impress you day in, day out.”

According to Matt and his mother, however, it’s Jessie who’s the impressive one. “She’s very calm and patient. She speaks very kindly and respectfully to Matt,” says Matt’s mother, adding that Jessie is also determined to help Matt advocate for himself. “Jessie isn’t afraid to say, ‘Let’s ask about that.’”

Gestrin recalls a time when Matt couldn’t complete his job of wiping down all the tables because he was bothered by the noise level. “I told him, ‘I want you to practice telling the manager why you can’t do this,’ explaining that’s how you advocate for yourself,” she says. “He found out he could do the other tables after, and he felt so good.”

And when he couldn’t remember his login code for work, she made him a beaded bracelet with the four-digit number code for easy recall. She also taught him deep breathing techniques to help him cope with his anxiety.

“We’ve had a great experience with STARS,” Matt’s mother says. “They seem very in tune with Matt, capitalizing on improving his skills and confidence.” Jessie, who is currently completing her master’s degree, looks forward to watching Matt—and her other clients—continue to grow. “He’s excited to take the initiative because now he knows what it means,” she says.

This transition marks a pivotal step in Matt’s continued growth and success, ensuring sustained support as he embarks on the next phase of his employment journey. – Written by Julia De Simone, 2023

Forging Paths, IMpacting Futures

STARS is empowering participants for workplace success through the CIE Program.

This is 1 of almost 100 stories of how STARS CIE is changing lives. Help support these hard working CIE program participants and others forging their paths today.

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