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Utah rehabilitation clinic finds work for disabled

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LOGAN, Utah — Nineteen-year-old Aaron Klomp knows how to make his colleagues laugh at work.

Once, before his shift was about to start, he waited in the dark before jumping out and surprising his job coach with a mighty "Boo!"

Another time, he came in to show them the Halloween costume he made himself — Shredder, the villain from "Ninja Turtles."

But Klomp, who was diagnosed at a young age with an autism spectrum disorder, also knows when it's time to work.

Klomp is the first success story for the EmployAbility Clinic, which provides vocational rehabilitation services to adults with disabilities. The focus of the services is to help them obtain and maintain employment in the community.

Today, Klomp works part time at Great Basin Graphics in Logan, performing essential screen cleaning tasks. The screens are used to imprint images of T-shirts and other products. He works two-hour shifts Tuesday and Thursday.

Klomp said his favorite part about the job — aside from his paycheck — is scrubbing the screens with a hand scrubber. But he also likes to brag to his friends about using the power washer to hose the screens down.

Klomp's mom, Lauri Klomp, said she didn't think her son would get a job, but then the clinic approached her and she agreed to let them help her son — but how would he feel?

"He seemed nervous, he would kind of bite his lip and hold his hands, like he saw a scary movie," Lauri Klomp said. "But when they asked him if he wanted to do it, his answer was 'yes' ... Hats off to Aaron for trying."

It all started this past summer, the clinic obtained a small grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation that helped provide employment for Klomp. The seed money from the Wells Fargo Foundation was essential in initiating the clinic and beginning the process, said Tami Pyfer, clinical instructor in USU's special education and rehabilitation department.

What started with one client and a little bit of money is now a place for many individuals with disabilities to get their feet planted in the job market. And that's important, given the fact that most Americans are feeling the effects of a down economy.

"We want them to feel empowered," said Joel Johnson, a job coach at the clinic.

The clinic is a collaboration between the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, and USU faculty in rehabilitation counseling and special education.

"We're bringing special education and rehabilitative services together, which has a high need nationally; you don't see it very often," said Jared Schultz, assistant professor in special education and rehabilitation and the director of the rehabilitation counseling program. "It really is a clinical situation to serve the community, help (USU) graduates and do research."

The experience with Klomp is part of a case study by Bob Morgan, professor in the same department.

The clinic is quickly becoming interdisciplinary, said Schultz, working with other concentrations at USU like the speech, language and pathology department.

USU's special education and rehabilitation counseling program is consistently ranked in the top 20 programs in the U.S. News & World Report annual survey of graduate programs in the United States. The clinic initiated by the grant is a recently developed part of it, Schultz said.

Maria Lewis, a USU graduate student, has been working with Klomp at his new job. Her goal is to phase out her duties so that, eventually, the business can take responsibility for fully supervising him.

"It's been incredible, his progress, ever since I got on board," Lewis said.

The first step was to conduct an employment preference assessment, using the YES (Your Employment Success) program.

Once Klomp's top three job preferences were identified, clinic staff worked with the family and project staff to conduct a social network analysis aimed at identifying businesses in the community where situation assessments could take place. That way, a volunteer work experience is arranged with a community business.

The purpose is to asses the individual's ability to learn new tasks, as well as existing work behaviors.

"It has to make business sense (to hire a person with disabilities); it's not charity," Schultz said.

The situational assessment demonstrated Klomp's preference for and ability to learn the skills in order to work in the printing field. From the time he was young, Klomp loved to make things with scissors, tape, markers and paper. He'd make dragons and skeletons, his mom said.

The printing field was also his top choice and match in the YES job preference assessment program.

Great Basin Graphics was identified through the social network analysis, and the business was approached with the idea of participating in the program.

Kurt Norgard, business manager at Great Basin Graphics, said that he liked the idea of Klomp working there because it fit in with their business philosophy, so Great Basic Graphics willingly accepted the invitation.

"It's a positive relationship between Great Basin Graphics and Utah State University," said Norgard. "(Klomp) does exactly what we need him to do and that's why he works here."

Norgard said he appreciates the fact that Klomp spends time talking to his colleagues and then gets "right to work."

Klomp's place at the Logan graphics store gives his colleagues time to work on tasks that are profitable.

Before Klomp came along, the business had to "pull people out of production" to do screen cleaning.

Klomp was born in Salt Lake City and raised in Logan, the oldest of four. From the time he was about 2 years old he was in speech therapy class for his advanced form of autism. Now he's completing a post-high school program in River Heights.

While none of his siblings have autism, one has a central processing disorder.

Klomp's father owns a 19-year-old software company in Logan, PK Software, for which Lauri Klomp also works part time.

Klomp shows great independence outside of work. When the family goes to the grocery store, he gets his own groceries and pays for it. He makes meals himself.

He also loves Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

"Every time we ask him where he wants to go (for vacation), that's what he says," Klomp said.

Information from: The Herald Journal, http://www.hjnews.com