What makes a Good Autism Transition Program

Mary Ann LaRoche of SEEDs for Autism works with a student in her warehouse which has many projects going simultaneously
Mary Ann LaRoche of SEEDs for Autism works with a student in her warehouse which has many projects going simultaneously

By Debra Hosseini

Part 1 of a Series about Transition Programs for Young Adults

A reader, who is obviously a parent in Kevin’s ex-class, asks “What are my qualifications to speak, write and blog on the subject of autism?”

Besides being a parent, and living autism 24/7 for nineteen years, I’m a retired systems analyst. What I did in my prior employment was evaluate big governmental systems and create more efficient ways of doing things.In the last few years I’ve applied my systems analysis skills when I interview those who manage programs for Autistic people. Since Kevin is in a transition program right now, I’ve shifted my focus to these types of programs.

I think most parents of Autistic students who enroll their child in a transition program have similar goals. They’d like to see their child develop real-life skills that can help them with daily living, employment, and having a fulfilling social life. They want their child to make friends and live a quality life. They want to see their child develop their unique potential. I’ve written blogs on many programs that fulfill these criteria. If you click through the links below you can read the blog.

Project-based programs such as Autistry Studios in San Rafael and Seeds for Autism in Phoenix are wonderful examples of good programming. Students learn a variety of skills and at the same time often work in a team to create a product.

Students receive part of the income they receive from sales of their artisan work at Seeds for Autism. Mary Ann LaRoche, the founder who created the program because of a sibling on the spectrum, emphasized that this isn’t a “craft” day program but a quality program that teaches real-life skills such as welding, sewing, jewelry-making and the like.

Maryanne LaRoche at Seeds for Autism works with a student in her warehouse which has many projects going simultaneously

Maryanne LaRoche at Seeds for Autism works with a student in her warehouse which has many projects going simultaneously

The founder of Autistry Studios, Janet Lawson, completed her MFT certificate to bring a therapeutic value to her students. On my visit to Autistry Studios many projects were being worked on, including her own son’s Tear-drop vehicle project. The students are supervised by therapists who facilitate socialization, planning and team work.

Teardrop in progress at Autistry Studios

Teardrop in progress

Hidden Wings in Solvang, also started by parents Jim and Julia Billington, offers many classes with a focus on recreation, fitness, cooking, art, photography, computer skills and healthy living.

Drumming with Horses with Hidden Wings in Santa Ynez

Drumming with Horses with Hidden Wings in Santa Ynez

Exceptional Minds in Sherman Oaks, California is an innovative program which provides students the skills to pass Adobe Certifications. Parent Yudi Bennett, a former film producer, helped create and now manages this unique program.

For future blogs I’m going to interview the Directors of nonPareil in Texas which focuses on computer-skills, Kindtree in Oregon which has started project-based programming, Los Angeles Vocational Academy of the Arts, and Kevin’s program in Ohio.

Vicki Hill, CFO of nonPareil Institute commented “The future for adults with autism is coming from families…Parents know that the most needed skills involve teamwork – getting along with peers, recognizing your role in a group effort, knowing when to seek assistance … No credential is more powerful than experience coupled with results.”

She recounts a story where her son attended an awards ceremony at nonPareil Institute and asked her,

“Mom, did you notice that I stayed until the very end, even though I got my award in the first group? That was because I needed to be there for my friends. There is no “I” in “team”, and we are a team.”

With unemployment hovering at ninety percent for Autistic adults, we need programs that teach marketable skills and we need to teach our children how to work cooperatively as team players.

Yesterday I received a Draft of Kevin’s IEP at his new school. I was impressed with several things. One is that Kevin has a real-life vocational goal for data entry. The program is focusing on his writing and typing skills. The other is that they have team meetings with staff to figure out how best to serve their students.

It seems from reading the IEP that Kevin’s school manages their time wisely. For example, if watching Harry Potter, they talk about theory of mind, emotions, and motives of the characters. For many years, I’ve realized the value of embedding executive functioning skills and social skills in programming for Autistic people. I’m happy to see a school that understands this and the importance of social facilitation as well. It always pains me to see Kevin isolated. He wants to learn how to communicate with peers but has difficulty. He wants to make friends. Disruptive behaviors don’t come out of the blue. Kevin often acts out if bored and unengaged. I’m grateful he has found a friend, Aaron, who he plays Chess, UNO, and board games with.

So to answer the question about what are my qualifications, I’m first and foremost a parent. Many people who I’ve talked about in this blog are parents or siblings. We have passion for what we do. A good transition program always seems to have a person who is passionate about the program at the helm. I’d like to see more programs that have Autistic people who can act as advisors for program development, because they truly understand what it means to be Autistic.

I quit my prior employment to dedicate my time to creating opportunities for Kevin and other people on the Autism Spectrum. The Art of Autism is a collaborative of over 300 artists, poets, and talented individuals. We’ve collaborated with well over fifty organizations around the globe. We put on events with Autistic people to educate the public about autism and highlight the gifts. I write to educate, inform, and help Autistic people. Many of my friends are somewhere on the spectrum or parents. I’m honored to be part of a global community which supports one another. I’m in the process of developing a presentation on what makes a good transition program and collecting data from transition programs around the country. If you have a transition program you’d like to see featured, please complete this survey and I’ll get back with you.

Part 2: Autism Unites The Power of Relationships and Connections

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