On a typical day, Cooper Thompson’s shifts at work follow a predictable routine. It’s one of the things he likes about his job at Walmart, where he collects carts from the parking lot. Thompson, age 18, is also a student in the transition program in Redmond.  He knows exactly what he needs to do during each work shift, and is rarely thrown off by surprises. That is, until a few weeks ago, when a customer had a medical emergency in the parking lot.

On that day in early May, Thompson was busy managing the shopping carts when a white car stopped near him. The driver told him that a woman needed help. Thompson found her on the ground near her car, unable to get up. Thompson stayed calm, and kneeled down next to her to assess the situation.

“First I said ‘Excuse me ma’am are you okay?’ and she just groaned. Then I called 911 and told them what was happening. They asked if she was breathing okay, and a couple other questions. I stayed on the line until I saw the fire department truck and I waved them over,” explained Thompson. Handling emergencies seems to run in the Thompson family–the EMT who arrived on the scene was Jake Thompson, Cooper’s father.

 

Finding success in many ways

Thompson has received well-deserved kudos for his actions that day. He was interviewed for a KTVZ news story, and recognized by his school and the fire department. But the success he has experienced this year goes beyond knowing how to handle an emergency.

As transition teacher Liz Worthington explained, Thompson has stepped up and become a leader among the transition students, as well. “Cooper is so dedicated to going beyond expectations. He is here every single day, without fail. It’s his first year with us and he’s grown so much,” said Worthington.

In addition to managing school and work, Thompson recently moved into his own apartment. With support from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and the Youth Transition Program (YTP), Thompson and his parents found a location that works for him. Thompson likes to start his day by running about three miles, then walks to school and work. He sees his family regularly, but enjoys the independence of living on his own.

 

Learning to identify strengths and abilities

One part of the transition program that surprised Thompson this year was finding a community of students who also have autism or other disabilities. “I never knew anyone like me when I was in high school. I never thought I could be a leader. The transition program is helping me get to the next level,” said Thompson. The small number of students in the program makes it easy to get to know each other well and the group becomes like a family, he added.

As part of his transition program, Thompson has focused on learning more about autism. He’s inspired by the life story of Dr. Temple Grandin, known for her trailblazing research in both animal behavior and understanding autism. “Awareness of how his autism brings both strengths and challenges — that is part of why Cooper is thriving at work and in living independently,” said Worthington.

Could it be that the autism helped Thompson keep his emotions in check during the medical emergency and 911 call? “I think that might be true. Looking back, I do see how someone could get nervous in that situation, but I just followed my instincts,” he said. While the rescue was very exciting, Thompson was happy to get back to work afterwards–knowing that he is able to manage any emergencies that come his way.