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CHD Introduces Summer Program for Youth on Autism Spectrum

CHICOPEE — For typical youth in their high-school years, summer vacation provides a break from academic and social pressures. But for youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this break in their normal school-year routine can lead to substantial regression.

For summer 2017, the Center for Human Development (CHD) is providing an Extended School Year (ESY) Autism Coaching Program in support of select school districts in Hampden and Hampshire counties. The program, developed by Jennifer Bogin, coordinator of Autism Initiatives for CHD, is designed specifically for a higher-functioning population of youth with ASD. The program was designed for a specific population:

• Diagnosis or presumed diagnosis of ASD/asperger’s, non-verbal learning disability, social communication disorder, or any other disability that leads to social/emotional challenges;

• Co-occurring behavioral-health challenges (depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, ADHD);

• Age 16 to 22;

• Average IQ (either mild or no intellectual disability); and

• Skills deficit in relationship skills, communication, adaptive/life skills, employment/pre-employment, self-regulation, time management, community participation, and self-advocacy.

CHD’s ESY Autism Coaching Program runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from July 5 to Aug. 10. The program is located at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, 617 Montgomery St., Chicopee. The co-location with the other Chicopee Public Schools Extended School Year programs on site will allow students possible vocational or volunteer placements as well as access to full culinary-arts facilities.

“CHD conducted a needs assessment from September 2016 to February 2017 and found there was a wide service gap in ESY programming for a higher-functioning population,” said Bogin. “While it’s not designed as a summer-camp experience, CHD’s ESY Autism Coaching Program does allow youth and families living with autism to participate in a fun, social learning program designed for their needs. It helps keep youth engaged academically and involved socially so their summer isn’t spent alone or glued to a video game. Some ESY programs exclude youth based on the need for a mental-health component, but CHD has built this program with that in mind.”

ESY program participant will gain new and transferrable skills, such as time management, grooming and self-care, budgeting, using transportation, as well as soft skills, such as making small talk, taking a break, and making plans with a peer. “Some social-skills programs focus on the hard skills and lack intentional work on soft skills, but this program is combining both,” said Bogin. “Community inclusion is the goal, and independence, socialization, and transition readiness to adulthood are the objectives.”

One intended outcome of the program is building a regional cohort of youth who share similar interests. “Naturally developing communities are based more on interest than geography,” Bogin explained. “So instead of forcing socialization based on a specific school district, we’re attracting youth from all over the region, and providing an engaging, supportive environment where similar interests will be whatever develops organically.”

A typical program day starts with a brief small-group check-in and review of the daily schedule. Students are then brought to one of three different community sites to work on the skills targeted in their individualized education program and ESY plan. Following community time, students are transported back to the program site for a professionally facilitated lunchtime social-skills group followed by a half-hour of unstructured (though supported) generalization and recreation time.

Students spend the final hour of their day in a small group facilitated by a clinician to focus on interpersonal relationships, dressing for success and grooming, self-regulation and cognitive behavior therapy, time and money management, or self-advocacy. A new topic is chosen each week and is repeated three times per week to allow students an opportunity to practice what they are learning in the group and report on how they are able to generalize skills.

School-district and private-pay options are available. Space is limited. For more information, visit www.chd.org and search ‘autism’ or e-mail Bogin at [email protected].

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