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From High School To Real World: Trumbull Program Tackles Autism Issues

The transition from high school to college or a job can be daunting.
The transition from high school to college or a job can be daunting. Photo Credit: Contributed

TRUMBULL, Conn. — Transitioning from high school to college or a job can be a daunting experience for anyone.

For someone with autism, the change can be even more overwhelming.

Enter Transition Opportunities for Postsecondary Success (TOPS), a first-of-its-kind preparedness program created through a partnership with The Kennedy Center and Fairfield University.

Begun this fall, TOPS addresses a multitude of social challenges, independent living skills and self-advocacy for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ADS).

The pilot program is led by the Trumbull-based center and interns and graduate students in the university’s Special Education Department at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

“Many students with ASD are highly capable of succeeding at a university academically but often are challenged due to the lack of critical social and life skills,” said Kennedy Center President Martin Schwartz. “TOPS will concentrate on helping participants build self-esteem and confidence and help manage stress and anxiety in new experiences.”

The program will also focus on communication, decision-making, time and money management and personal safety issues.

TOPS is geared to any student, ages 18 to 21, with Asperger’s or High Autism, who is considering college or employment.

The weekly sessions run from September until December.

“This session is full to capacity with 10 participants and a waiting list,” said Ariel Gagliardo, the center’s supervisor of therapeutic services who oversees this groundbreaking program. “We are thrilled with the response from the community. There was obviously a great need for this important program.”

TOPS comes at a crucial time for college-ready students with ASD due to recent state budget cuts for such transitional services. The program will leverage curriculum used by The Kennedy Center’s Autism Project in response to parent requests to address gaps in service for young adults living with ASD.

The Autism Project has served more than 500 families.

For more information, contact Gagliardo at agagliardo@kennedyctr.org, 203-332-4535, ext. 258 or visit www.thekennedycenterinc.org .

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