At the College Internship Program (CIP), our objective is to support young adults on the Autism spectrum and with learning differences in their transition to independence. For most students, living away from home and acclimating to a new community will be a novel experience. Transitioning to unfamiliar surroundings can be challenging for anyone. Each time we move from the comfort of something known to the uncertainty of something unknown, we may face anxieties, doubts, and fears. With the right amount of support, guidance, and structure, these obstacles can be easily overcome.
Students surmount these challenges over time as they transition into a program like CIP; they grow comfortable and confident with their new setting and schedule, and develop strategies for navigating new expectations and responsibilities. Newfound freedom and responsibility afford students many opportunities to take incremental, achievable steps toward their greater goals of independence.
Eventually, the focus turns toward transitioning from a post-secondary program to the next stage in life, which for many students can be a period enriched by education, employment, improved social networks and personal relationships, and participation in meaningful community events. The transition to increased independence is also an opportunity for students to take ownership of their destiny and showcase their talents, skills, and techniques for turning goals into realities.
It’s All About Who You Know
One of the most valuable resources for students to have in place before transitioning to life beyond CIP is a clear understanding of their total support network - the family, friends, co-workers, mentors, caseworkers, and service providers who will be there for them in times of need as well as in times of celebration.
Who will be there to assist with transportation? To listen to and validate concerns? To act as an advocate?
It is important to identify these key players and to know how to reach them. Identify who these individuals in your life are, and establish a line of communication with them. As we move into adulthood, it becomes increasingly important to maintain our health and wellness. Students will benefit from reviewing who they see for healthcare, dental visits, and psychiatry appointments, as well as any other relevant service providers. These resources play a key role in each student’s adult life, and having a solid understanding of how to contact and access these resources will be critical to increasing independence.
Beyond the family, friends, and service providers that many students know and rely on, there are other support options that deserve examination. SSI and SSDI are forms of financial support that may apply to your student’s situation. These benefits can provide a reliable source of income to augment what a student may already be earning or receiving from family. Some students may already be working with caseworkers from one or more of the various centers, departments, commissions, or divisions in your state that support independent living, job seeking, and vocational training for young adults with disabilities.
Caseworkers are there for you beyond your time at CIP, and students should stay in touch with their caseworker(s) in order to continue coordinating services and working on new goals and plans. Every state has a vocational rehabilitation agency that is designed to help individuals with disabilities meet their employment goals. These agencies work with you to prepare for, obtain, maintain, or regain employment, and typically specialize in job seeking and paid training opportunities.
There are many practical items that can be addressed prior to transitioning beyond CIP. Students who wish to live either on their own or in a shared housing situation can explore county housing boards for lotteries and waitlists for subsidized units. The applications for these properties are typically brief, and secure each applicant either a shot in the lottery selection or a spot on the waitlist, depending on the property. Students can also think about some basic “checklist” items - things to have in order prior to moving onto the next stage in life. By no means exhaustive, such a checklist can include the following items:
- sample cover letters
- letters of recommendation
- academic transcripts
- letter of disability disclosure
- interview scripts and sample prompts
- contact information for one’s total support network
- list of usernames and passwords for all subscriptions and accounts
- a wellness and recreation plan in order to maintain healthy activity
- recipes for cooking on one’s own
- and personalized banking and budgeting skills to ensure safe and responsible money management in life beyond CIP.
Transition does not happen in a vacuum. Many key players assist in making transition as successful as possible. Open communication, clear goals, boundaries, expectations, and collaboration are “musts.” Scaffolding supports to move students progressively toward greater independence should be a common goal among all of the key players in a student’s support network - especially the student! Do not hesitate to utilize the resources that are available to you. After all, they are there for good purpose!