Learning To Be Independent After High School, While Living With An Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult…
In 2009, my stepson Jared, who has Aspergers Syndrome, was finishing his last year of high school, and had recently turned 19. He was a “super senior” due to his academic and behavioral challenges, which made our family very anxious about where Jared was going to go after graduation.
I had made several attempts at getting him into a program at a few of the local colleges, but I couldn’t find one that would accommodate his needs. I explored colleges where he could live, such as Landmark, Lynn, and Mitchell College, to name a few. None of these had a residential program that offered support or assistance . Jared was becoming increasingly frustrated and his anger and ill behavior was quickly becoming a heavy burden on our family. Where could he go that he would attend college, learn social and independent living skills and be supervised with his hygiene, medication, and household responsibilities?
In October of that same year, I was participating at an annual walk for autism at Jones Beach. It was at this event that I walked up to The Gersh Experience booth. I spoke at great length with Kevin Gersh, the founder of The Gersh Experience. It sounded like the perfect model program for Jared, but so did many other places. I took the brochures home and followed up by scheduling a meeting with The Gersh Experience staff. After learning more about the program, I continued to be impressed. The following week, Kevin Gersh took Jared to shoot pool and speak with him, we continued to be impressed, although still a little nervous because it sounded too good to be true.
After taking a leap of faith, and fast-forwarding a little over 3 years; Jared is a junior at Daemen College, a small liberal arts school in Buffalo, which works closely with the staff at The Gersh Experience. While he attended college, Jared lived at The Gersh Experience housing for 3 years, where he participated in a program consisting of academics, social skills, and independent living support. While living there, they provided daily transportation for his commute to school.
After a short period, Jared became employed part time at a local supermarket and received job coaching from a Gersh Experience professional. Jared belongs to a fraternity and has a thriving social life, one that he never had before. He is maturing beyond my wildest dreams; it’s been quite a journey. Currently, Jared lives in his own apartment in Buffalo, in a development called Collegiate Village, which houses students from a number of Buffalo colleges. Even though he lives on his own, he still receives off-site support from the staff at the The Gersh Experience. – Laurie Benjamin