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  • Autism organizations collaborate on pilot to improve post-high school outcomes
Feb
10

Autism organizations collaborate on pilot to improve post-high school outcomes

iStock 000014432495SmallAuSM, Autism Works, and Lionsgate Academy are jointly piloting a post-secondary navigation project to help high school-aged youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other learning differences create and implement a “roadmap” for life after graduation through a grant from Minnesota universities and colleges. The goal of the program is to increase the number of youth with autism who successfully transition from high school into post-secondary education or employment.

iStock 000014432495SmallAuSM, Autism Works, and Lionsgate Academy are jointly piloting a post-secondary navigation project to help high school-aged youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other learning differences create and implement a “roadmap” for life after graduation through a grant from Minnesota universities and colleges. The goal of the program is to increase the number of youth with autism who successfully transition from high school into post-secondary education or employment.

ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S. and Minnesota. According to a 2014 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control, one in 68 American youth have ASD. Minnesota’s Department of Education reports that more than 17,000 youth under the age of 21 have autism in the state. Studies show that two years after completing high school, only 25 percent of individuals with ASD are employed or enrolled in post-secondary education.

“The statistics are scary,” Jonah Weinberg, AuSM’s executive director said. “If we allow this trend to go unchecked, there will be hundreds of thousands of capable individuals with autism, who spend their adult lives living with their parents, and become shut out of the workforce, not for lack of ability, but because they haven’t received the instruction needed to transition into self-sufficiency.”

While many high school students with autism are accepted into colleges and universities, they often drop out or fail academic probation. Without the supports they had from family and schools for the first 18 years of their lives, they are not prepared for the abrupt independence that comes with the college experience.

Autism Works executive director, Tyler Foutch said, “A young person with autism, heading off to college or into the workforce, may need more support and time to get adjusted, organized, and connected to the right resources. This project provides students with additional skills and tools that address how their ASD affects them, and teaches them to tap into the training when they reach campus or the workforce, to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed and giving up.”

Through this project, high school students from Lionsgate Academy, a public charter school designed to meet the unique needs of students with ASD, will work individually and in groups with Post-Secondary Navigators from Autism Works to explore their strengths and skills, learn about careers that align with those abilities, and develop a “roadmap” for the necessary post-secondary training to achieve their career goals.

“Parents typically send kids off to college and assume they will figure out how to balance their social and academic lives, as well as select a major that will result in a job,” Foutch said. “That’s a difficult task for any young person, but for someone with autism it can be a major challenge just to know where to start.”

While a student with autism may earn excellent grades in high school and get into a competitive university, this is only the beginning of their journey. If that same student struggles with being in a large class, or if he or she has anxiety about being away from home, or if he or she does not do well in certain climates, these factors that can significantly impact their post-secondary success.

Lionsgate Academy executive director Diane Halpin said, “We have been pretty successful in our efforts to prepare students with autism for life after high school. However, we recognize many of the challenges faced by our graduates, and we’re pleased to be working AuSM and Autism Works to provide our students with additional supports to ensure their transition to adulthood and independence.” The pilot project will run through the end of the current school year.

Weinberg said, “Research indicates that this project could be a game-changer for the autism community when it comes to post-secondary success. If we can help youth with autism successfully make this transition, the same techniques can be used with other groups that share similar challenges. Almost everyone has the potential to develop a viable career-path; some just need a little longer runway before they can fly solo.”