An afternoon coffee break is a daily routine for many. For the staff working at Pressley Ridge’s Pittsburgh Campus – which includes the Day School Pittsburgh and the School for Autism – their coffee break is much more meaningful.
Three days each week, students from the Pressley Ridge School for Autism (PRSA) operate a coffee shop on campus. On the surface, the PRSA Coffee Shop offers a welcome service to the staff in the form of beverages and snacks, but it’s the students who run the shop who benefit much more than the customers.
The coffee shop is a therapeutic environment where the students learn valuable social and vocational skills, including appropriate work place etiquette. The are four jobs: greeter, snack stand, barista and cashier. Each job has specific expectations that vary based upon the individual student’s needs and abilities, which increases the students’ chance for success.
The use of meaningful Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) in the coffee shop is encouraged. AAC includes various methods of supplementing or replacing speech to convey wants and needs. When a student uses any form of AAC, a unique vocabulary is developed for communication in the work environment, which promotes communication in settings outside of the classroom. Group conversations are led by PRSA’s Speech-Language Pathologist, and social language and the art of “small talk” become a byproduct of the work environment.
Though staff are closely monitoring, students working in the coffee shop are given the least intrusive level of prompting to promote independence. The staff are also able to identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses, which can be used to develop a work-biography to be passed on to future placements.
For our students, the PRSA Coffee Shop is an important stepping stone between a highly structured therapeutic environment and the real world, and it is just one of the many ways we prepare our students for life after Pressley Ride.