3-Week “College” Program Helps Autistic Young Adults Transition to Independence

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Transitioning from childhood to adulthood can be particularly difficult for people with autism. They may struggle to deal with changes in their lives or have trouble identifying what tasks they’ll need to learn to do as an independent adult that they didn’t need to do as children.

Luckily, there are programs like the one the Emory Autism Center, at Emory University, is putting on this year for six young people with autism. It’s a pilot program that’s still working through its growing pains before it can take on more students, but so far, things are going swimmingly.

“I feel like I get a lot more independence in terms of how I spend my time, what I eat, just generally what I do with a lot of my time,” 20-year-old Noah Markson says.

During the day, the students in this three-week program attend classes, but they’re not traditional college courses. Instead, the young ASD pupils learn things like how to write a resume and other skills they’ll need to take care of themselves when they live independently.

When they’re not in class, these students spend most of their time the way any ordinary college student would. They go to the dining hall for food, spend time hanging out with roommates and friends, and maybe even do some studying. The only real difference is that there are more frequent check-ins to make sure all is going well.

One of the things the program does is help these autistic young people cope with living with a roommate who may not have the same sleep schedule, habits, or hobbies that they do. So far, the students are managing well.

“We were both perfect fits, and we just clicked instantly,” 23-year-old Chloe Cich says. “And it was like the stars aligned, everything fell into place, and I am really, really thankful for my roommates.”

The price tag for this program is a hefty one at about $5,000 for just three weeks. However, Emory is offering some scholarships, and the school is looking at other ways to bring down costs. In the long run, they hope, the invaluable lessons their young students learn in the program will outweigh the costs of the course.

Dr. Catherine Rice, a Professor of Psychiatry at the Emory School of Medicine and Director of the Emory Autism Center, says the program’s main value lies in what it teaches its students about exactly how to make the transition into adulthood.

“For someone with autism, they often need help and guidance in terms of what does that mean, how does that natural responsibility just happen, and what kind of things do you need to do as an adult that you don’t need to do as a child,” she says.

Check out the video below to learn more about how Emory’s transitional program is helping young adults with autism learn to live independently and prepare for college.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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