When Jamie Roland, who has Down Syndrome, started a job placement program at the University of Hartford two years ago, he was fortunate to find a familiar face here. His childhood friend Mikayla Pascucci ’18 is an integrated education and special education major in the University’s College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions (ENHP). She became Jamie’s job coach, helping him learn how to complete simple tasks like photocopying and how to handle tasks independently.
Using knowledge and strategies she has learned in class, Mikayla teaches Jamie everything from administrative tasks to vocational and social skills.
Mikayla and Jamie have been close friends since seventh grade so she knew him well enough to begin to work with him. Every day, she creates a checklist for Jamie to follow. She also videotapes him to identify areas of needed improvement.
“I just want him to be as successful as he can be,” she says, and it appears that he is. “Now he can just do it. He doesn’t need any instructions,” says Associate Professor Sheetal Sood, chair of ENHP’s Department of Education and program director for the special education program.
Going even further, Mikayla is using her experience working with Jamie to develop guidelines and strategies to help other young adults with special needs.
In cooperation with Associate Professor Sood and Sarah Hart, a visiting instructor of special education, Mikayla is conducting research to identify specific strategies that can help young adults like Jamie succeed in the work place. This research will be especially useful for people with special needs in their late teens and early adult years because education funding and training support for them ends at the age of 21.
“We need to bring awareness and support to this issue. Kids and young adults should be included not forgotten,” Mikayla concludes.