This Family Services blog post by Marianne Sullivan, the Assistant Director of National Outreach and Resources for Autism Speaks. Marianne is the mother of an 18-year-old young man with autism.
California’s Taft Community College offers an invaluable Transition to Independent Living (TIL) program that provides adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to work, live independently, and participate in their community while they earn a Transition to Independent Living certificate.
About two weeks ago, a group of us from Autism Speaks visited the Taft program in Kern County in hopes of gaining insights into this successful program. As the mother of a son with autism who just celebrated his 18th birthday, and as a member of the Family Services Team at Autism Speaks, I know the impact of watching a child with autism become an adult with autism. I know all too well that the future will bring yet more concerns. For me, one of my greatest sources of hope comes from all of us working together to figure out what works and what doesn’t for the growing numbers of adults with autism.
The TIL Program at Taft is a two-year residential program that began in 1996. The program has a proven track record, with 82 percent of its graduates living independently. Currently, one third of the TIL students have autism, and the staff at TIL expects to see the demand increase as more and more individuals with autism transition to adulthood. Jeff Rose, the Director of Student Support Services, said that this year, one out of every two applicants seeking admission to the program is an individual with autism.
Students come from all over California to enroll in the TIL program, which immerses participants in an inclusive environment on a mainstream campus. The program provides instruction, training, and support in real world skills, with an emphasis on vocational skills; in other words, it helps individuals work toward obtaining real jobs for real pay. As part of our tour, we visited the dorm rooms of first year students, along with several homes in the community that house students during their second year. We found that students were successfully taught how to move about their community easily; going to grocery stores, churches, coffee shops, and movie theaters.
We had the opportunity to speak with a group of TIL students during our tour. Most shared their personal experiences in the program. Autism Speaks Board Member Brian Kelly asked the students, “What is your dream job?” Students gave a variety of answers, including a preschool teacher, a cartoon artist, and an IT support specialist. Although the dreams varied, the students expressed the motivation and commitment they will need in order to go after their dream job. They also recognized the TIL program as a stepping stone towards achieving their goals. The important insight our group took home is that students at TIL will have the opportunity to do just that. We all know that people with autism need to have opportunities to learn how to live independently, and get and maintain paying jobs. We also know that the more opportunities these individuals have, the greater skills and confidence they will be able to develop, and the greater the chances of realizing their goals.
Autism Speaks recognizes the tremendous need for programs such as Taft and asks other community colleges across the country to join Taft in developing transition programs to better prepare students with disabilities. In July 2010, Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) developed an agenda for life-long living and learning for people with autism. AFAA’s agenda represents new projects/initiatives, and policy changes that will influence the quality of life for adults living with autism today!
For more information about the TIL program at Taft College visit www.taftcollege.edu
or call (661) 763-7775. You can also e-mail requests for information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taft’s TIL program has been awarded a Federal TPSID Grant and is part of the consortia of institutions under the model comprehensive Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID). There are 27 TPSID grantees, located in 23 states, http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-secretary-education-duncan-announces-109-million-awards-under-new-programs-he