June 18, 2024
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JoyDew Foundation Opens Career Development Center for Young Adults With Autism

The JoyDew Foundation for young adults with autism has realized its long-planned goal of opening a career development center in Bergen County. Moish Tov and Anat Klebanov, husband and wife directors, held an open house at the new Midland Park location to explain their vision to prospective families and acquaint them with the center’s structure and goals. The five-day-a-week program, funded by the Division of Developmental Disabilities and Medicaid, has started with seven young adults in the group; there is capacity for about 20.

“The JoyDew Career Center provides an opportunity for young adults with autism to have a meaningful life that will include development, employment and growth,” said Klebanov.

Tov created the JoyDew Foundation in 2011 out of frustration from not finding suitable programs for his two sons with autism. Tal, 23, and Gil, 21, were diagnosed as toddlers. Tal is also deaf. The core of JoyDew is the recognition that boys and girls with autism are left without good options once they reach 21 and age out of the educational system. Autism is defined as a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

The JoyDew program has three basic components: a strengths assessment to uncover hidden talent, activities to facilitate development and training in marketable skills. “We are starting a new paradigm where we focus on the unique abilities of young adults with autism so they can be employed,” said Tov. “To get there, we teach communication, social skills, work ethics and other relevant subjects.”

JoyDew will be the employer that outsources services to companies. Potential employees will be selected and trained based on the skills they have an aptitude for as revealed in the strengths assessment. “We started job training in high-level technology areas where our members have competitive advantages,” Tov said. “We aim high, as we believe they have high capabilities.” The fields Tov has targeted include medical imaging analysis, film and video editing, website content management, graphic design, medical billing, bookkeeping and music editing.

Visual acuity is an area where people with autism often shine. Tov, an Israeli, discovered this in 2012 after discussing his struggle trying to find programs for his sons with friends in the Israel Defense Force, where he had been an officer. He began a program with their assistance for the IDF to hire youth with autism to analyze aerial and satellite photos and flag unusual sights that others might have missed. Today, there are over 40 soldiers with autism in the program.

A retired radiologist recently suggested to Tov that participants with high visual acuity might be trained to look at mammograms and flag areas that look different when compared to a normal mammogram. Dr. Lisa Weinstock of Teaneck, a breast imaging specialist, is training Tov so he can teach the skill at JoyDew with workstations that have been donated. “Radiologists spend years learning to read and interpret mammograms; that’s clearly not the goal here,” said Dr. Weinstock. “However, if JoyDew can develop the skill to flag unusual spots on a mammogram, that could be a great first step for a busy hospital or private radiology practice.” Tov is currently recruiting teachers for the other skills he thinks will be marketable.

While the vocational part of the program takes shape, participants have a range of activities that foster education, socialization and well-being. Dane Wagner, a music instructor, explained to a group of attentive listeners at the open house that 95 percent of people with autism have perfect pitch. Music can be therapeutic and help facilitate communication. Wagner said he has a friend who is autistic but wins musical awards and plays with an orchestra. Marybeth Burtt, JoyDew clinical director, has a son with autism and medical issues, including mitrochondrial disorder and auditory processing disorder, who is now an accomplished guitarist. In a training workshop for staff, Sean Burtt talked about overcoming his disabilities to learn how to play guitar, and he performed with Wagner. Art is another talent and means of self-expression nurtured at JoyDew. Rachel Avital, CFO, has a talented, artistic daughter with autism who will be joining the program. Her paintings were available for sale at the open house.

Deborah Marcus of Teaneck has been following Tov’s progress in starting the JoyDew Career Development Center since he met with area families several years ago to get the program up and running. She is hopeful that her 25-year-old son, Dov, who has strong musical abilities, will soon be evaluated and accepted. “This could be the answer to our prayers,” she said. “Since Dov turned 21, the programs he is in focus primarily on basic life skills with low standards. The JoyDew program uses the potential that each young adult has. I would be thrilled if there is a job Dov can do and make a positive contribution in the music industry and society at large.”

The Career Development Center is actually the second program JoyDew has created. In February 2017, the foundation started a two-day-a-week job training initiative in Denville, New Jersey, for students ages 19-21 transitioning out of two schools in the area, Celebrate the Children, which Gil Tov attends, and Spectrum 360. Several students in the last year of their schooling will be joining the center in Midland Park.

Gil enrolled in Celebrate the Children at age 14 after being asked to leave public school. He doesn’t speak but learned to communicate with an iPad in a technique called facilitated communication, where a facilitator helps him type. Although there is some controversy about the technique, with critics stating that the facilitator is leading rather than following, Gil writes that his life changed completely once he became adept at using the iPad.

In an interview at home, Gil answered questions by typing with help from his mom, Anat. “I’m very sophisticated. I can listen and type at the same type,” he wrote proudly. Gil said his life was very bad before learning to type. “I was not able to express myself. They thought I was retarded.” After learning to type, Gil’s intelligence and warmth asserted itself. “I was very excited. I felt that I could be whatever I wanted. I’m still feeling that way.” One of his dreams is to become a doctor for deaf people, so he can help his brother, Tal.

Tal is in the inaugural group at the JoyDew Center in Midland Park. A strength assessment found him to be very strong in math, pattern recognition, visual acuity and science. In addition to exploring jobs in each of these areas, he, like his brother Gil, will be participating in an optional online college program.

The boys’ parents are elated that their hard work researching, designing and finally implementing a program for young adults with autism has come to fruition in time to help Gil and Tal, as well as other young men and women like them. “There is no limit to what people with autism can achieve if we only give them the support they need,” said Klebanov.

For more information about JoyDew, visit www.joydew.com. For information about the Career Development Center in Midland Park, contact [email protected] or call 201-658-0441.

By Bracha Schwartz

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