April 30, 2015 Meeting: PosAbilities & PEERS

Employment is key to independence and purposefulness for every adult. Yet our young people often falter in job hunting, or, if employed, in the execution of their tasks due to a lack of “soft skills”. For example, they may not priorize tasks as an employer might wish, communicate what they don’t understand, or generally understand how to “fit in”. Consequently, they may be let go from their jobs, or sidelined, or passed over for promotions.

In pairing a PEERS presentation with a PosAbilities presentation, SPS was hoping to find a way that the life skills training offered by PEERS could compliment the job placements offered by PosAbilities.

PosAbilities provides a broad range of services to persons with developmental disabilities, employment counselling being one of them. Other areas of service are community inclusion, home living support, and behavior consultation. Foye Hatton, from the Employment arm of PosAbilities presented on their work assisting clients in finding & keeping work. We learned that PosAbilities has a growing roster of companies receptive to employing persons with disabilities; seeking employment at businesses where disclosure of a disability is not an issue, is obviously, preferable. The employer will then be more likely to modify either the tasks or the work environment to accommodate the employee and will likely also welcome the job coaching assistance offered by PosAbilities. In the end, though, the decision to disclose lies with the individual being served. However, repairing the relationship with the employer after a problem has occurred, is more difficult without disclosure at the onset. PosAbilities takes a personal interest in their clients and works to find “a good fit” in their placements. Many of the jobs, though, are entry level, rather than career jobs. This is typical of jobs for young people without much post-secondary education; more work is needed in developing a long-term employment picture for their clients. We also learned that PosAbilities had a “jobs club” to facilitate social interaction & mutual support between their job seekers. This club did not really get off the ground, though it may be revived at some point in the future. PosAbilities has also initiated a chartered Toastmasters group for their clients to better prepare them to present their ideas and to exchange ideas with others.

PEERS (Program for the Education & Enrichment of Relational Skills) was developed at UCLA by Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson and Dr. Fred Frankel in 200. PEERS is a manualized, social skills training intervention. It has a strong evidence base for use with teens & young adults with autism spectrum disorders, and is also appropriate for people with ADHD, anxiety & depression. PEERS for Young Adults is a 16 week program for 18-30 year-olds, who are interested in learning ways to help them make & keep friends, and to develop romantic relationships. Some of the topics covered are appropriate conversation skills, how to find common interests and exchange information, how to use humor, how to enter & exit conversations, how to handle rejection, teasing, and bullying, how to be a good host, how to choose appropriate friends, how to be a good sport, how to handle arguments & disagreements, and dating & etiquette skills. Our two PEERS presenters, Laurie Campbell and Natalie Haggarty, are registered PEERS providers, and both use PEERS principles in their jobs as Special Education teachers in the Lower Mainland. For PEERS to be effective, the participants have to be motivated to engage in the practice and discussion of concepts raised each session, and 8-10 participants would be required to run a program for young adults. As no programs are being run on a regular basis, it would appear that finding the quota of motivated young adults has not been easy. Another drawback is the cost – $1500.00 for each participant; for parents with young mostly unemployed adults, who might also need additional post-secondary education/training and possibly other support services, many of whom do not receive disability funding – this may seem like a prohibitive amount. Another concern is follow up – is there any support or reinforcement for the participants after the 16 week program is completed? Finally, I think that some parents found the PEERS program structure too rigid, and not responsive to individual differences, and maybe too focused on making the participants “fit in”, rather than creating an atmosphere of acceptance.

In the end, while each presentation was interesting, and the premise that the lack of life & social skills may make or break a job for our young adults is valid, there seemed to be no will to collaborate by pairing the life skills training of PEERS with the job counselling & job placement work done by PosAbilities. I learned later that the PEERS is offered by the Behavioural Intervention arm of PosAbilities, though it doesn’t seem to be offered regularly, or thought of as supporting clients in their relationships at work.


PosAbilities: www.posabilities.ca             604.291.1902   307 – 3680 Hastings Street, Vancouver

PEERS:   Laurie Campbell, lcampbell@sd40.bc.ca                Natalie Hagarty, nhararty@gmail.com