Jack Thomas, 17, of West Boylston, is one of the dozen autism students at Crossroads School who is participating in a new vocational program to prepare for jobs as they age out of the school system. The Natick school is one of several maaps (Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools) schools that educate students with special needs and focus on vocational training through partnerships with area businesses. Students such as Thomas help to stock shelves, clean fitness machines, sort paperwork or set up lunches at a senior center. With the help of his teacher, Jonathan Hudson, Thomas spoke with Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about working at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.
“I have Aspergers and PDD, or Pervasive Development Disorder. Sometimes things are harder for me than some other people. I’ve been working at Newton Wellesley hospital for about six months, putting together packets, stuffing envelopes or counting patient handbooks. We have a van that takes us over there from Natick every Tuesday. I punch in, go to the project room and work from 9:30 till noon then eat lunch in the cafeteria and head back. I had to interview for this position, so I practiced a lot on answering the questions. I also practiced this kind of job at the school’s PAES lab (Practical Assessment Exploration System), where I tried different kinds of work, including wrapping burgers, sorting, data entry, or alphabetizing. My teachers made sure I could work for a few hours before getting burnt out. We also practice my social skills, like having a conversation. I don’t always know how to talk to people or ask follow-up questions. But I think I’m doing better. I recently talked with my teachers about the future and I do think I want to go to college some day. I want to study music. I play the guitar and I’m in a band. Things are looking good.”