In collaboration with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Services, we launched Preparing for L.I.F.E. (Learning….Involvement…Fun…..Employment) on the Spectrum, in July of 2010. The development of this program came as a result of increasing requests for support services for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders who were finishing their high school level programs and desired to transition with confidence into higher education environments, vocational pursuits, and increased engagement in appropriate social networks and recreational pursuits.
A behavioral pattern had been emerging among individuals in this population that reflected a significantly diminished level of social access and engagement soon after graduation from high school. Even among those on the spectrum who were attending vocational school and college programs, there was a tendency for these individuals to attend classes with regularity, but they would rarely engage in the wider social experiences afforded on higher education campuses. We were also determining that individuals in this population were more likely to struggle academically early in their higher education programs because they were not naturally equipped to advocate for themselves to get access to more instructional supports and information about their course work and significant class work deadlines.
Those who attempting to transition to training programs and jobs were struggling with the inherent social aspects of workplaces. Feelings of isolation and anxiety were common complaints voiced by these young people and their caregivers. We hoped to develop programming and supports that could be tailored to the individual and group struggles that these young adults were experiencing. We believed, and research on this subject confirmed that training and opportunities geared to expand and enhance the social skills of a young person on the spectrum would help them to develop the social “soft” skills needed to be successful in other social arenas: higher education, work, community.