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AANE: It All Starts With A Dream


Originally published in AANE (Asperger's Association of New England) Fall Journal, 2009

Meryl Kahn, age 25, just completed her sixth year at the College Internship Program (CIP) at the Berkshire Center in Massachusetts. Meryl came to CIP as a way to continue her post-secondary education while developing career, social and life skills, areas often overlooked for students with learning disabilities. During her years at the CIP, Meryl faced and overcame a myriad of obstacles.

Meryl’s lifelong dream was to work with young children as a teacher's aide, but that dream required credentials that Meryl did not yet possess. Meryl is diagnosed with ADD, motor skills deficits and PDD-NOS. Her college learning skills assessment placed her in remedial
reading, writing, and math.

In her first year at CIP Berkshire Center Meryl attended an enrichment program at a local business school, where she demonstrated such determination and such a great work ethic that Margaret Markham, Meryl’s tutor and academic dean at the Berkshire Center, encouraged her to take on remedial college courses. “Meryl has more determination than almost any other student I have tutored,” says Mrs. Markham. “Her positive can-do attitude is one of her greatest assets.”

After passing these basic reading and basic writing classes, Meryl was ready to enroll in an Early Childhood Education Introductory Certificate Program. Meryl’s talents and love for toddlers earned her unequivocal acclaim. Mrs. Markham guided Meryl through the maze of course requirements, assisted with course work, and orchestrated Meryl’s internship at a local children's center, where Meryl learned to apply classroom theory to the real world. In the spring of 2006, Meryl’s family and friends watched her cross the stage at graduation to receive her Introductory Certificate. But Meryl was only getting started.

The next semester Meryl enrolled in an Intermediate Certificate Program in Early Childhood Education. “I was nervous at first, but once I got comfortable I knew I could do it,” Meryl said. Right on schedule she received her Intermediate Certificate in the spring, and parlayed her practicum at the Children’s Center into a paying job Meryl decided that she was going to reach for the sky and enrolled in a Liberal Arts Associate’s Degree Program in Elementary Education, a program with many general education requirements. After this final test of her determination, Meryl again walked across the stage at graduation, receiving her Associate’s Degree. (See photo above.)

Meryl has achieved at a level that no one but Meryl ever expected. Passing psychology and Conservation of Natural Resources took Herculean efforts from Meryl as well as from tutors willing to go the extra mile for her. As an alternative to the insurmountable wall of college algebra, CIP helped guide Meryl to a statistics course offered by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. “Jeff Wheeler searched until he found a statistics class that Meryl could use to meet her math requirement,” says Gary Shaw, Berkshire Center Program Director. “The combination of Meryl’s strong work ethic and Jeff’s determination to assist her to reach her goals proved to be an unbeatable combination.”

At CIP, Meryl’s therapist, tutor and residential staff provided incredible support day in and day out, enabling her to receive her college degree, expand her social realm, and develop a support system and lasting friendships. In Meryl’s own words, “The Berkshire Center helped me achieve my Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. The staff here are great and supportive, especially Jeff Wheeler.”

And finally, if it were not for Meryl's parents, who offered their unwavering support, Meryl might not have had the chance to achieve her dreams. “We have followed and supported Meryl's lifelong efforts to excel at everything, from sports to academics to social activities. CIP provided the structure and independent support within which she could thrive without parental interference.” After receiving her degree, Meryl moved to Charlottesville, VA, where she will now live independently. She has been offered employment at a local day care center and preschool. Meryl stated, “If CIP taught me anything, it was never give up—reach for your dreams.”

Jeff Wheeler provides academic support to individuals with ASD, NLD and other learning differences. He is currently working on a book "Propreoception and Asperger's Syndrome - A Balancing Act."

Dan McManmon grew up in western Massachusetts and received his B.A. in Multimedia and Graphic Design from Champlain College in Vermont. He began working at the Berkshire Center in Lee, Massachusetts in 2005, and more recently moved to Berkeley, California for the opening of CIP's fourth center.

The College Internship Program (CIP) offers academic, internship and independent living experiences for college age students with Asperger's syndrome and other learning differences. CIP serves the growing number of students who are aging out of public school systems but still need support after high school. Many of these young adults need to develop self-advocacy skills and learn how to function independently before they can be successful in college or careers.

CIP provides a bridge for these young adults, easing the transition to college and independence by offering comprehensive instruction in academics, life skills, social skills and career development. Students live in apartments with residential staff available 24 hours a day. All students have advisors, tutors, therapists and social mentors who help navigate real life situations such as grocery shopping and banking. Many have internships and attend local colleges in conjunction with CIP’s classroom modules and services. For further information about the CIP, visit www.collegeinternshipprogram.com or call 1-877-KNOW-CIP.