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The Future Looks Bright Exploring Post Secondary Inclusion
Posted on March 22, 2015, by GAPMP
By Ashley Gellis
Marietta City Parent Mentor
Even before Lachlan, (we call him Lach,) was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, I knew that there was something different about him compared to his older brother. The main concern was that despite being a happy child, he did not speak to us conversationally at all. He could identify dinosaurs with difficult names to pronounce, but he would not respond if I asked him if he was hungry, cold, sleepy, happy, etc…
Then a friend of mine suggested that I contact the school system to see what they could do. He was given speech therapy for two years and it was wonderful. We also took him to ABA therapy once a week. We elected to enroll Lach in a private, church preschool, I had more than one teacher say, “it’s a shame he’ll never be able to go to a regular Kindergarten.” What a horrible thing to say to a parent! I was determined to prove them wrong and he continued on his path with therapy and entered a mainstream Kindergarten on time and did very well.
Despite being a self-proclaimed research queen, I could not find a lot of material about high-functioning autism 9 years ago. What I could find was evidence that early intervention is the key to helping any child on the autism spectrum. This is something that I latched onto and did not let go. I credit my dear mother, who has passed away, with the other words of wisdom I’ve never let go. She said, “Lach was given this autism for a reason. It is his journey to take. As his parents, you are charged with doing everything you can to help him, but ultimately, he is the one who must make the journey.” She was correct. The hours of research, phone calls, IEP meetings and driving to therapy were daunting, but he is the one who did all the work to be as successful as he is now. He deserves all the credit!
In a way, we have continued to practice our early intervention philosophy. Although Lach is only 12 years old, we are working now to help him prepare for his college and career. Just like when we were trying to get him ready for Kindergarten, we don’t know what the future holds for him. But we don’t let that mystery keep us from encouraging him.
My husband and I both went to college and we have never once let our sons believe that they will not go. It’s always been a natural part of our conversation about the future. Lach’s brother is now 16 and we’re seriously looking for the right college fit for him.
Having options is the greatest thing a young person can have when he or she is thinking about transitioning from high school to postsecondary school or employment. As a parent mentor, I am constantly researching community resources for our parents and their children. When I heard about the Inclusive Postsecondary Academy at Georgia Tech open house on January 9, 2015, I knew I had to go so I could let Marietta City School parents know about it. I also thought it would be a great opportunity for Lach to be on a college campus, hear about the program and take a tour. He was, by far, the youngest person in attendance, but he loved it. He especially loved the campus tour given by one of the students. The recreation center was a real thrill for him – especially seeing the diving team at practice!
We learned that “students in the IPA program have opportunities to live independently, enroll in courses on campus, complete internships through professional development, and actively participate in student life events and social activities.” They also have access to academic, social and fitness mentoring, tutoring, writing assistance and campus recreation. Students will take classes in reading, writing, math, science and technology with other GA Tech students – grading will be done according to their ability and through the IPA department. They will also take classes that help them become more independent and prepare for life after college – including financial literacy, money management, interpersonal communication, community engagement, project based learning, career exploration, vocational preparation and preparation for post-college transition. It’s an amazing opportunity for students with disabilities who may not traditionally qualify for entrance to Ga Tech.
After attending the IPA (Inclusive Postsecondary Academy) open house at Ga Tech, I went to the open house at Kennesaw State University Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth. It is a two-year certificate program designed to provide an inclusive post-secondary opportunity to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is another great opportunity, giving students with intellectual disabilities the chance to have a fulfilling college experience, including a rich social life and preparation for future employment and community engagement.
The number of programs are growing. Georgia now has the East Georgia State College CHOICE program and the goals program at Columbus State. In South Carolina, there is the Clemson Life Program at Clemson University. It too, is an excellent opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities. According to their website, “ClemsonLIFE is a four year program incorporating functional academics, independent living, employment , and social/leisure skills in a public university setting with the goal of producing self-sufficient young adults. Students successfully completing the two year program will receive a certificate of postsecondary education. For select students, an optional third year is available to assist with job placement and community integration with a decreased level of supports.”
In addition to talking about college and visiting schools, we’ve made financial plans for him, too. He has a 504 College Savings account that we contribute to on a monthly basis. We’ve never had any doubt that he will go on to some sort of postsecondary education, so we try to prepare as responsibly as possible. We have recently started researching new companies that are helping kids on the spectrum prepare for college by honing in on their strengths and interests. There is so much technology coming out for people with autism that the future is looking brighter than ever! You must realize that the skills our children have are assets! They have the ability to focus greatly on things that they find interesting. Discover what they like and encourage a career in it! My son has an incredibly bright future and I look forward to seeing him flourish and become the successful man I know he can be!
Follow the links below to learn more about Post Secondary Inclusion programs and to find Ashley’s contact information
My contact information is firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-528-0536.