From Project SEARCH to the Philadelphia Airport: Yasom Davis's Story
April 11, 2018
Yasom Davis leaves his house at 6:30 am every day to spend an hour and fifteen minutes on trains and buses to get to his new job as “warehouse extraordinaire” at the Philadelphia International Airport. This may sound like just another commute and day on the job, but is remarkable because Davis was diagnosed with autism at age 3. Research has shown that only about one-third of young adults with autism are employed the first two years after high school.
Davis was part of the first cohort of students to go through Project SEARCH at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University. Four of the eight interns who completed the program in summer 2017 began full time employment at the Philadelphia International Airport this fall. Housed under the Life Course Outcomes Research Program, Project SEARCH offers vocational training and internships to young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and/or an intellectual disability with the goal of competitive, integrated employment. The program at Drexel is one of the first to tailor specifically for young adults on the autism spectrum. The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is tracking outcomes and plans to widely share what works.
Davis’ mother, Latrace Nicols, says that Project SEARCH helped her son achieve full time employment and the confidence to do the job well. “There is no doubt in my mind that the experiences while attending this program attributed to his success today. I am certain that he would not have been this open and receptive to the changes had he not gone through the Project SEARCH program first,” she says. Davis traveled on his own using public transportation for the first time during his time with the program. “That alone was liberating for him, and nerve wracking for us as parents, but he showed us his ability to be trusted and handle his affairs outside of our watchful eyes.
During his time as an intern with Project SEARCH, Davis worked in turn at the campus Barnes & Noble, Printing and Mailing Services, and Parking services doing things like stocking and sorting through mail. He says he enjoyed working at all three locations but Barnes & Noble was his favorite. He uses his stocking skills he picked up at the bookstore at his current job. At the airport, he works helping shred paper, work the ride-on floor buffer, label boxes, and complete other service tasks. He enjoys being part of a team and likes his 9-5 hours.
When the Philadelphia School District invited Nicols to participate in Project SEARCH, she did her research, and was impressed by their offerings and the success of the program in other cities.
“I fell in love with the possibility of him entering the work force, which is something Yasom had always talked about,” she said. Davis was about to enter his last year of public school before aging out of the Philadelphia public school system, and he and his family had no concrete plans for next steps after high school. Project SEARCH looked like a great opportunity for him. Nicols says Davis was hesitant at first and wanted to finish his last year of high school, but became more enthusiastic about participating after talking in depth about job training and going to work. “Our motivation was to get him all of the support he can to fulfill his dream and goals,” Nicols says.
“If it wasn’t for Project SEARCH, I wouldn’t be working,” Davis says. He comes across as a charming, thoughtful, well-spoken young man. His enthusiasm for his job is matched by his mother’s commitment to Davis flourishing as an independent adult. “I just want him to have the ability to live up to his full potential. One day, and I stress one day, I would like for Yasom to live on his own or with limited assistance,” Mrs. Nicols says.
When asked what his goals are when it comes to employment, Davis says, “I’ll stay at the airport and never retire. I mean, until I retire.”