Adam Walden

Adam Walden, Berklee College of Music student

"Easterseals staff kept me focused on improving the process for Adam and told me to trust that we would be able to make college work."

- Roseanne, Adam's mom

Adam is a California resident currently in his sophomore year at esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston studying the cello. Adam is not only a wonderful cellist but is also one of the actors who is featured in the HBO documentary, Autism: The Musical! Adam was receiving services from Easterseals California through high school as an adolescent with moderate/severe autism, but Adam’s mother knew these types of guaranteed supports didn’t exist in the college setting. The timing of the request was truly serendipitous as Easterseals Massachusetts was ambitiously rolling out a program for what they knew was a critical unmet need.

After all, 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And, it’s estimated that people with ASD comprise less than 1% of college enrollment with an 80% incompletion rate.

Easterseals MA staff met Adam his freshman year as spring semester was about to start. Adam was quickly introduced to his “College Navigator,” a specialized aide, to not only develop a trusting relationship with Adam, but to develop a personalized action plan to highlight Adam’s goals. Adam’s College Navigator assists him in different areas such as preparing for class, in-class redirection and refocusing, self-advocacy, public transit and spatial awareness in the community, and gentle guidance through social conversations with peers and professors. It’s important to remember how overwhelming the transition to a large campus environment in a major city can be for any teenager, let alone someone with severe autism who is trying to mitigate perpetual communication deficits.

“I was scared to death and did not know if Adam would be able to stay in college. Easterseals staff kept me focused on improving the process for Adam and told me to trust that we would be able to make college work for someone with his level of disability...they virtually created the whole program around his individual needs!” said Adam’s mother, Roseanne.

Adam Walden playing the cello outsideWorking with his College Navigator, Adam has made great strides in his pursuit of independence. He enjoys grocery shopping and budgeting for healthy food items to cook at home, learning everything he can in the classroom with assistance from his Navigator, but his all-time favorite act of independence is traveling around Boston using the MBTA. Adam loves to watch trains! Adam is about to embark on the second semester of his sophomore year. His mother has remarked that not only is this an incredible feat for Adam and the autism community, but that Berklee students and faculty seem to be having profound experiences regarding the concept of inclusion as well. Adam plans to continue to use College Navigator services while he is at Berklee College of Music, and often thinks about the possibility of making Boston his home as a professional musician and composer.

Currently, only 50% of 25-year-olds with Autism have ever held a paying job. Adam’s mother and Easterseals staff are certain that his degree will not only make him more viable in his adult employment, but also able to live more fully by experiencing everything that goes into live, learn, work, and play.

Learn more about our College Navigator program

FYI - Be on the lookout for Adam in the sequel to the HBO Documentary Autism: The Musical (trailer above) set to release sometime in late 2019. Easterseals MA staff sat down with the documentarians several times recently to discuss their inclusion techniques as well as what a program like college navigator means for the future of the work force in our country.

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