Even after years of school, social skills coaching and therapy, few young people with autism are ready to set out for full time residential college with no extra preparation or support. Fortunately, a few farsighted organizations have identified this problem, and stepped up to address it.
Today, there are a number of private transitional programs available – some day programs and some residential – specifically intended to help young adults on the autism spectrum prepare for college. Through these programs, teens learn to plan their own time, manage their finances and much more.
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College Learning Experience CLE is a large and well-established program with locations in five states. They run summer and year round residential programs during which, according their website, “staff works closely with students to provide structured tutoring to develop academic skills, group outings to facilitate the development of social skills and instruction in independent living, such as grocery shopping, cooking and paying bills. Students live in apartments near the CLE offices and receive intensive support to achieve their goals.”
The Cody Center at Stony Brook University in New York provides two programs that address the needs of students with Autism Spectrum and related disabilities who have the ability and the desire to attend college. The programs are provided by Cody Center staff members on the campuses of Suffolk County Community College, in collaboration with college staff members. The Summer Pre-College Program provides an opportunity to experience campus life and classes. The College Support Program provides additional social skills and organizational supports to students once they have been admitted to the college and are attending classes.
This summer program combines wilderness training with college prep. According to the website: The initial wilderness adventure is geared toward building the problem-solving and communication skills critical to living independently in the adult world. Activities include backpacking, paddling, rock and tree climbing, and a high ropes course experience. Following this is a packed itinerary of on- and off-campus experiences including college visits, career exploration, community service, meal-planning and preparation, budgeting, and practicing peer relations. Staff guide the group through discussions and practice of many adult living skills as they investigate their future.
The College Internship Program offers summer and year-round programs in four states geared to helping young adults on the autism spectrum to prepare for college. Their program isn’t cheap, but their curriculum is extensive, and their description is inspiring: The College Internship Program provides individualized social, academic, career and life skills instruction for students with Asperger's and Learning Differences. Students obtain the skills necessary to inspire independence and expand the foundation on which they can build a happy and productive life.