Breaking the Mold

Video of young man on the autism spectrum earning employee of the month.
Watch Jesse’s story.

Susan Thompson will always remember the day Jesse called her and said, “You’ll never guess. I’m employee of the month!”

Susan responded with, “I’m not surprised. Nobody deserves it more than you.”

Jesse started receiving services from Boone County Family Resources (BCFR) as a junior in high school. With the help of his Support Coordinator Susan, he participated in the Life and Work Connections Work Crew and the STEP program. In both programs, he was able to build important vocational skills that helped him develop the building blocks needed to obtain a job after high school. Six years later, Jesse is a valued employee at Columbia Orthopaedic Group cleaning recovery rooms, stocking shelves, and whatever is needed to accomplish the tasks he has been given. His position is challenging in that it includes OSHA requirements and taking extra precautions to maintain his own safety as well as patient safety related to biohazard.

Mary Kate Cobb worked in the Surgery department at Columbia Orthopaedic Group supervising Jesse over the past four and half years. She  is impressed by the personal and professional growth he has shown in that time.

“He’s become a big asset here where he knows his job and he wants to get it done to the best of his ability. He always asks if he can stay over (time) to help out, he doesn’t want to let us down. That’s just Jesse, he’s a team player,” beamed Mary Kate when asked about Jesse.

Mary Kate explained that when Jesse first began working at Columbia Orthopaedic Group they started with short simple tasks, and have now worked up to multiple tasks.

“We went from one to two tasks a day to literally like 10 or 15,” said Mary Kate.

Jesse receives ACT Career Support Services which are funded through his Medicaid waiver. Initially the ACT job coach was there to help him learn his job tasks, communicating with his employers and his coworkers 100 percent of the time. ACT has now reduced services down to a half an hour a week out of Jesse’s full time schedule of 40 hours.

“The goal of the service for all of our clients is that we fade it down. Jesse has definitely grown, he has become more self-assured, more of an advocate for himself. I’m seeing so much more of Jesse step up. Jesse has met his goals. He is our definition of success,” said Susan.

Susan sees Jesse at least once a quarter and considers herself his “biggest cheerleader”. Susan links Jesse to services and provides oversight to the services to make sure he receives everything he needs to be successful.

model, he is an awesome young man who has overcome a lot of challenges,” said Susan. “He struggles yet overcomes these things to be the success that we see now, and that’s the awesome part of who Jesse is.”

Some of Jesse’s biggest challenges are anxiety and struggles with executive functioning, which are common themes with people on the spectrum. Jesse and Susan talk often, he knows now to talk things out with his family, he also has an Easterseals specialist that he meets with and works on these skills with.

Jesse still faces many challenges, but it’s his accomplishments that are drawing people’s attention. He has a driver’s license, is helping pay for his new car, is an outstanding Special Olympics athlete and now has the honor of receiving the Employee of the Month award at Columbia Orthopaedic Group.

“It’s been hard, I completely have my ups and downs about life. But I have a work, that’s kinda gave me a goal. No matter what’s going on outside of work, [my coworkers say] I need you to do a job because I have faith in you, I depend on you, in or outside of work. I can do it. And I can probably do a lot more. Yes, I can get a house once of these days … I can maybe get a girlfriend one of these days,” laughs Jesse.

Jesse hopes that by sharing his story he will encourage others to never quit striving towards their goals.

“I may say I have autism – and yes, I’m higher on the autism spectrum. But I’m not going to let that worry define my life, because that’s not who I am,” said Jesse.  “I realize that some disabilities are harder than others, but there’s always a way to break that mold, whether it’s small, big, or large. There’s a way to break it. Once you break it, keep on going because you never know what’s around the corner.”