Recognizing the lack of vocational training programs and dire employment prospects for individuals on the Autism Spectrum, The Autism Higher Education Foundation (AHEF) launched the Paralegal Assistant Training “PLAT” Program in collaboration with the Massachusetts Probate & Family Courts, law firms and related business partners. The focus of the PLAT program is on the cohort of students on the Autism Spectrum and with related disabilities, who are unable to pass MCAS and receive a high school diploma. In partnership with a growing number of high schools in the Commonwealth, the PLAT program provides selected students with paralegal assistant vocational training in participating Courts and subsequently targets placement in paid part-time employment in law firms and other business community partners. At age 22, DDS/MRC eligible participants may choose to continue the PLAT program with Advocates, Northeast Arc, The Price Center and other agency partners who will provide supported employment, education and training in paralegal assistant skills. AHEF’s vision is to expand this program in all 14 counties of the Commonwealth. The PLAT program has been highlighted in the UMASS Medical School Shriver Center’s Massachusetts Healthy People 2020 Autism Roadmap.
2. Program Description: PLAT PROGRAM SPANS FROM TRANSITION TO HIGH SCHOOL TO POST-22 FOR DDS/MRC ELIGIBLE PARTICIPANTS.
There are three phases to the PLAT program:
- 9th grade to 12th grade (14 to 18 yrs): Requisite skills are embedded in the student’s IEP.
- 12th grade though age 22, while PLAT student is enrolled in postgrad/transition program in local high school:
- Continuation of paralegal assistant education & training in school district.
- Travel training by school district.
- Placement into non-paid court internships for selected candidates who meet program requirements with support and data collection from school district.
- Placement into paid part-time employment with legal and business partners for selected candidates who meet program requirements with support and data collection from school district.
- Post 22 for MRC/DDS eligible PLAT participants:
- PLAT participants interested in continuing may transition to Advocates, Northeast Arc, the Price Center or other identified agencies for continued employment support, education and training in paralegal assistant skills.
- Individuals who have not participated in the PLAT program during high school may be referred to the PLAT program and screened for eligibility based on program requirements.
3. PLAT Program Curriculum:
The PLAT program model ideally starts from freshman year in High School by embedding the following “sample” areas of vocational training/job readiness into the student’s IEP:
- Addressing interfering behaviors that pose barriers to employment.
- Dress code, hygiene and professionalism.
- Communication skills, confidentiality.
- Office supply vocabulary.
- Paralegal assistant skills starting from the most basic to increasing degrees of complexity as student demonstrates success and independence.
- Skills such as shredding, scanning, copying, filing, organization and document management, redaction, data entry, word processing, billing, book-keeping support.
- Skill development is data driven.
- PLAT program track is a “supplement” to the student’s school day and is not intended to replace an “academic track” but aims to be woven into the “fabric” of the student’s academics.
All curriculum developed by AHEF in collaboration with school districts, educational experts and providers will be available on its website as a community service.
4. PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS:
A. Student requirements:
- Diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum or related disability and enrolled in a high school or 766 day school that participates in the PLAT program.
- Minimum of a 4th grade reading ability.
- For placement in court internship and/or law firm or related business, candidates must be selected by their school and screened by AHEF to meet behavioral and professional standards.
B. SCHOOL DISTRICT REQUIREMENTS:
- For court internships, District must provide one to one support at all times and collect data on student’s skills, behavior, professionalism and independence.
- For part-time employment with legal and business partners, District must provide one to one support and data collection, which support may fade based on employer feedback and student’s success and independence.
- District is responsible for transportation.
- Curriculum developed to be shared with AHEF and provided on an “open source” basis as a community service.
C. Provider Agency Requirements for post-22 MRC/DDS Eligible Participants:
- Provide ongoing paralegal assistant vocational training.
- Provide supported employment as needed by PLAT participant.
Download PLAT Program Brochure, here.
For further information on the PLAT Program please contact:
Vanda Marie Khadem, Esq.,
The Autism Higher Education Foundation
33 Wolcott Road Extension, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467