Category Archives: Autism

Autism CARES Act Signed into Law – Transition to Adulthood a Major Focus

The Autism CARES Act, signed into law by President Obama, allocate 1.3 billion dollars over the next five years to autism research, early detection, and intervention, with an emphasis on transitioning to adulthood. It will also focus on life skills, employment, housing, and transportation.
Read more here.

Navigating College

Navigating College, a project of The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, has a handbook for students with autism on navigating college.

titlepageThe handbook is available for free (download) here.

Leaving high school and going to college is complicated for everyone. But if you’re a student on the autism spectrum who is about to enter higher education for the first time, it might be a little bit more complicated for you.

Maybe you’re worried about getting accommodations, getting places on time, or dealing with sensory issues in a new environment. Maybe you could use some advice on how to stay healthy at school, handle dating and relationships, or talk to your friends and classmates about your disability. Maybe you want to talk to someone who’s already dealt with these issues. That’s where we come in.

Navigating College is an introduction to the college experience from those of us who’ve been there. The writers and contributors are Autistic adults, and we’re giving you the advice that we wish someone could have given us when we headed off to college. We wish we could sit down and have a chat with each of you, to share our experiences and answer your questions. But since we can’t teleport, and some of us have trouble meeting new people, this book is the next best thing.

ASAN was able to get you this book with the help of some other organizations. The Navigating College Handbook was developed in collaboration with Autism NOW, and with funding from the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. The University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability is helping us with distribution. We’re really grateful for all of their help in getting this book out.

Good luck, and happy reading! We hope it helps.

College Program Combines Classes with Employment Experience

A Louisiana college has developed a program for students with cognitive disabilities that provides employment experience with courses that are related to the job skills they are learning.

The Program for Successful Employment at Bossier Parish Community College is a two year program that helps students develop the soft skills needed for employment and then matches them with the employment based on their desires and skills.

At first, participants attend classes that teach “soft skills” such as how to set up a job interview and what to wear and how to act while there. Social skills are stressed since many people with autism don’t communicate well and often exhibit behaviors and develop fixations others can describe as quirky, Hanberry said.

During the second year, students’ interests are taken into account and they’ll be matched with jobs that may suit them.

They’ll start taking regular classes at BPCC to help them succeed at those positions. For instance, if they work in a kitchen, they might enroll in some of the college’s culinary arts courses.

No employers have yet signed up to take part in the program, although many letters have been sent to businesses throughout the Shreveport-Bossier City area. And some companies are considering participating.

Since students don’t earn college credits, they won’t receive a degree. Rather, they will earn a certificate stating training they’ve received so they can be competitive in the job market.

“We’re also trying to train the community,” said Hanberry, noting that people with special needs can make conscientious and diligent workers, but occasionally there can be glitches.

Read more here.

Massachusetts legislation would offer funding and regulations for transition services

Posted in the Daily Free Press, Boston, January 22, 2014

David’s future could have been an easy case.

The 21-year-old from Amherst was never confused about his future. He never decided to veer off his chosen track: to work on cars. He did not gravitate toward an inaccessible or risky career. He had no interest in being an artist, a doctor or an actorHe wanted to work on cars, and his Autism Spectrum Disorder did not have to get in the way of that dream.  

David, who chose to partially remain anonymous, is one of many young adults who went through the Massachusetts statewide special education program, which provides specialized curriculum, counselors and activities to students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Beginning in preschool, students meet counselors and advisors that help them learn skills they can use to live independently. Once these young adults approach their graduation date, they begin to discuss placement options with their parents and school counselors in Individualized Transition Planning meetings. These meetings are designed to help students find their places in the world once they leave the public school system, whether that places is in a sheltered workshop, a college environment, a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Independent Living Program (MRC), or at home with Department of Developmental Services checks.

Nonetheless, the funding for and the organization of this program leave many young adults like David with few-to-no options.

….Read more about David here.

Two bills in state legislature may improve conditions for youth with developmental disabilities: The Bridges to Success bill regulates the Individualized Transition Meetings, forcing representatives from whichever adult services agency the student and counselors choose to attend the ITP meetings. This requirement ensures the chosen option for the student is a good fit. It also forces schools to begin ITP meetings at least two years before graduation, so more students avoid the pre-graduation rush that David tried to avoid. Finally, it institutes more community programs for adults with disabilities, so various new graduates can meet and talk to others about how to become self-sufficient.

The second bill, Passage to Independence, provides an extra $23.4 million to the Department of Developmental Services to provide more options for people with developmental disabilities who are transitioning out of the school system.

Both of these bills heard testimony on Nov. 5 and are still awaiting judgment in committee. Many young adults with disabilities from across Massachusetts came to testify on behalf of both bills.

Read the rest of the article here.

Canadian Man with Autism Finds His Employment Niche

Finding a person’s interests and preferences is crucial to providing appropriate transition services.  The young man in this article has been able to find his niche using his strengths and interests.  The author alludes to the inefficiency of  Canadian schools in serving youth with disabilities as they transition into adulthood and this man’s parents forged ahead until they helped their son find a suitable program and business for him.

The next time you are cursing the assembly instructions for an IKEA desk or bookshelf, you will wish you were living in Edmonton.

Residents in the Alberta capital can hire Brad Fremmerlid, a 24-year-old man with severe autism who can build anything.

Although he doesn’t read or speak, Fremmerlid has an amazing ability to understand the most complex diagrams, blueprints and pictorial instructions.

And for a small fee — currently about $20 — he will build any piece of furniture in your home.

“Everyone tells us we should be charging more, but we’re not really looking for money,” said his father, Mark Fremmerlid, an air ambulance pilot, who launched the business for his son this month. “We just want him to have something meaningful to do.

“It’s just started, but it seems to be so good for him to go to someone’s place and have a problem to solve,” he said in a telephone interview this week.

So far, the business — Made by Brad — has had eight clients, who have asked the young man to assemble everything from a shower caddy to a filing cabinet.

Mark books appointments through the company’s website. Brad communicates through rudimentary hand signs. But a support worker, who drives him to the jobs, assists with any questions a client may have.

Read the article here.

Vocational Training for Students with Moderate-Severe Disabilities is Yielding Success

The Los Angeles Unified School District has transformed their transition programs for students with moderate to severe disabilities to provide training for competitve employment (Press-Telegram, January 18, 2014)

Claudia is an obese teenager with developmental disabilities who long had a habit of acting out at her school by dropping to the floor and refusing to move for hours on end.

But since early December, when her school started a nail salon where the students perform manicures for each other as well as paying customers, she hasn’t pulled the stunt once.

“It so profoundly impacts the way she sees herself,” said the school’s principal, Christopher Eaton. “Her entire decorum has changed — she’s cheerier, she’s more positive. It’s just amazing.”

Claudia is a student at the Banneker Special Education Center, which, along with its sister school, the Doyle Career and Transition Center in Gardena, is part of a transformation sweeping through the special-needs strain of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The district is moving toward a model in which all of its 8,000 students with moderate-to-severe disabilities receive some sort of vocational training.

Eaton is the new principal charged with overseeing both Banneker and Doyle, which are located three miles apart, and newly united as a part of the policy shift. (As of next fall, the school will be called Banneker/Doyle Career and Transition Center.)

Since its inception five years ago, Doyle has been a place where adult students ages 18-22 with moderate to severe disabilities such as autism and mental retardation come to pick up skills that give them not only a fighting chance to land a job in a competitive world, but also the life skills to make them happier, better-rounded adults.

Read the article here.

Department of Justice probe finds thousands of disabled R.I adults ‘segregated’ in state programs

Posted in the Providence Journal (January 15, 2014)

Thousands of Rhode Islanders with disabilities are “unnecessarily segregated” in state-licensed day programs and so-called sheltered workshops — some for decades — in violation of federal civil rights laws, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation has found.

The report released earlier this month — building on a probe launched a year ago by the department’s civil rights division — is a scathing indictment of operations at the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), which is responsible for providing employment, vocational and day services to about 3,600 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The 32-page report charges that disabled adults who are entirely capable of working in the community were steered instead into close to 40 state-licensed day programs, including seven “sheltered” workshops, where they performed rote tasks for about $2.21 per hour.


The state’s job developers and other employment specialists have no state certification, the report said, and no “effective financial incentive” to encourage disabled adults in sheltered workshops to move into integrated services.

The report also calls into question the assessments of these disabled adults’ abilities, saying the department staff who performed them have a “seeming conflict of interest” between satisfying departmental budget concerns and the needs of their clients.

The report says the problem of segregation often begins when disabled students leave school. Investigators found that only 5 percent of youth with disabilities who left secondary schools in Rhode Island between 2010 and 2012 move into jobs in integrated settings; most go into sheltered workshops of facility-based day programs.

Read the article here.

Employers Provide Work Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

Posted in the Mercury News Milpitas Post (San Jose, CA), January 16, 2014

 James Sadeioa, 19, stands with his back toward the kitchen doors, as he concentrates on filling empty pepper shakers that he holds at eye-level near the hanging lights that glow in the interior of Milpitas’ Dave & Buster’s sportsbar.

He is one of three students performing the same task, under the patient gaze of their teacher, David Sorenson, 50, whose class of 10 students with severe disabilities are split into three small groups enacting different tasks at the Dave & Buster’s, Burlington Coat Factory and Sears in the Great Mall on Monday morning.

Sorenson’s students, along with fellow ACCESS post-secondary teacher Stephanie Bentzel’s nine students, make up Milpitas Unified School District’s ACCESS program. The program, created by Bentzel in 2011, aims to give students with severe disabilities access to opportunities to be independent.

When Bentzel came to the Milpitas in 2007, the district was looking to create an educational program for special education students, so she worked with them to start one, taking best practices from other districts’ programs, to serve the students until they turn 22.

Only one student, Kevin Inmany, has graduated from the program so far, and he is currently looking for a job.

“Once they graduate from our program they can either get a job by themselves or with a job coach, or transition into an adult day program,” Bentzel said. “I’m hoping that we have prepared them for their transition into adulthood. It is not the end of the road. We are kind of getting them ready for what they will have to do as an adult.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Find out more about the ACCESS program here.

Work Environment May Improve Autism Symptoms

Sheltered workshops for people with disabilities is a concept of debate.  Research is showing, though, that providing competitive employment opportunities actually promotes independence and employment skills.

This Disability Scoop post (January 15, 2014) highlights a research study on the outcomes of employment on adults with autism in an employment setting.

Placing adults with autism in more independent work environments may actually help alleviate symptoms of the developmental disorder, researchers say.

In a new study of 153 adults on the spectrum ages 19 to 53, researchers found that where people with autism work appears to influence their development and that employment may play a “therapeutic role” for this group.

“We found that if you put the person with autism in a more independent vocational placement, this led to measurable improvements in their behaviors and daily living skills overall,” said Julie Lounds Taylor of Vanderbilt University’s Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, a lead author of the study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Those wtih greater independence in their work activities exhibited more improvementin symptoms, behavior and daily living skills over the years, the study found.

Read the article in its entirety here.


The AGE-IN Act

The Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence, and Navigation Act of 2013, or the  Age In Act , is a bill that was introduced in June, 2013 by Sen. Robert “Bob” Menéndez [D-NJ].  It is currently in the “referred to committee” status.  The bill’s aim is:

To amend the Public Health Services Act to provide research, training, and navigator services to youth and young adults on the verge of aging out of the secondary educational system, and for other purposes.

A July, 2013 post on Sen. Menedez’s website further explains the bill, which is specifically aimed at providing more services to young adults with autism who age out of the public school system:

 In an effort to expand the nation’s understanding of – and services for – young adults and their families living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), U.S. Senator Robert Menendez today unveiled legislation that would provide federal funding to research and evaluate services currently available for young people “aging out” of existing education and support systems, develop a national strategic action plan, and provide training grants to put the plan into action in helping transitioning youth to lead productive, independent lives.

The Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act of 2013 will address the needs of  aging-out youth with ASD in two phases:  The first phase is designed to identify the most effective interventions and existing support service infrastructure in order to develop a comprehensive training plan;  The second phase puts this plan to action by providing grants to existing entities – such as University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service – to train a new generation of Transition Navigators.  Transition Navigators will be trained to provide interdisciplinary and comprehensive services to address the needs of transitioning youths including providing services aimed at accessing continuing education (including vocational training) and competitive employment, but also in obtaining life’s other necessities such as health care, housing, transportation and community integration….

Menendez’s bill is designed to conduct research, develop techniques and implement training for support services that will help ensure young adults with ASD have the opportunities to make the transition to adulthood a success.

Read the entire post here.

Sen. Menedez’s speech at the unveiling of the AGE-IN Act:

Read more about and track this bill here.