by: Carly Willis Posted: Apr 12, 2021 / 06:35 AM CDT / Updated: Apr 12, 2021 / 07:49 AM CDT

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Twenty-one-year-old Gregory Morgan enjoys riding horses, drawing manga anime, and working his job at a Wichita Dillons store.

Gregory is on the autism spectrum, and his mother, Trina, says programming for young adults with disabilities often runs out around the time they graduate high school.

In searching for something to foster independence for Gregory, Trina came across the “Greater Expectations” program through the Wichita gift store, Autism Avenue.

The program is put on by the Independent Living Resource Center. The gift shop serves as a training ground for individuals with disabilities to grow their skills in social awareness, effective communication, and higher executive functioning skills.

“I loved this program. I really liked the people here, and they’ve definitely made an impact on me especially,” Gregory said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.

At Autism Avenue, managers Andi Tatom and Audrey Graber create work systems and tasks to help people foster those skills that will lead to sustainable future employment.

“The spectrum it is just that: it’s a spectrum and so it looks different on each person so based off of their individual needs is actually how we create their program,” Tatom said.

Gregory sorted and processed different inventory and got a better understanding of customer’s body language and expressions during his time at Autism Avenue. He admits to formerly having thin patience before the program.

“Everybody’s different, and autism, while it does have setbacks, it can actually be an advantage in some cases,” Gregory said.

Gregory says his advantage is in his art, which was also transformed by his time at Autism Avenue.

“Trust me, I did not draw that many happy things at all until I met them,” he says of Tatom and Graber.

Through the work systems and interpersonal skills learned through Greater Expectations, Gregory is now gainfully employed at a Wichita Dillons store, where he bags groceries, retrieves carts and assists customers.

“They really like me at my work because of how productive I can be,” Gregory said.

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