LITE program at GV gives adults with autism real work experience

GVL Archive / Eric Coulter
Sharalle Arnold, Director of the Childrens Enrichment Center

Eric Coulter

GVL Archive / Eric Coulter Sharalle Arnold, Director of the Children’s Enrichment Center

Derek Wolff

In collaboration with Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, Grand Valley State University is continuing a partnership that helps adults with autism gain work experience.

The Learning Independence Through Experience program began in 2008 to give adults with autism aged 18-26 work experiences with several jobs on campus. The program aimed to improve their independence and self-sufficiency in a workplace environment.

This year, 20 LITE participants work on campus in the University Bookstore, Campus Dining, library, Fieldhouse and other departments. The participants work about 10 hours per week.

Anthony Centrille, LITE program coordinator with Goodwill Industries, said working closely with GVSU has benefited the program’s participants.

“Our partnership with GVSU has broadened the scope of the LITE program and increased the opportunities for our participants who are on the autism spectrum,” Centrille said.

Working at a university also gives LITE program participants the ability to experience college life while gaining social skills and valuable work experience.

The program initially coupled with Michigan Rehabilitation Services during the pilot period, during which time participants worked in living centers and among the custodial staffs.

Recent studies done by Autism Speaks show that about 90 percent of adults with autism are unemployed.

The Disability Resource Directory asserts and reaffirms Centrille’s statement that any real-world work experience is extremely beneficial for autistic adults.

The majority of adults aged 19-30 with autism live at home with their parents and need constant care. The ability of an autistic adult to manage a job and home and to take care of financial obligations comes from education and training, skills the LITE program continues to provide by matching participants with job opportunities at GVSU.

The program largely benefits everyone involved. The participants are not the only ones who gain memorable and valuable experiences.

Sharelle Arnold, director of the Children’s Enrichment Center, said LITE participant Marlen Villarreal has made a positive impact while working at the center.

“The children are especially fond of her and have come to think of her as an integral part of their classroom experience,” Arnold said.

Many autistic adults can function as contributing members of society when exposed to programs such as LITE, as social responses, accepted behavior and long-term memory gains have been well documented.

GVSU’s Statewide Autism Resourses and Training program is committed to helping create a sustainable structure for participants in the LITE program. The fundamentals of START largely encompass the same principles of the LITE program.

To learn more about Autism Speaks or partner organizations that deal with combating unemployment in autistic adults, visit

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