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The Wonder Years: for Teens and Young Adults with Autism

by Suburban Family-- Editorial Staff

For many students with complex disabilities, options for an independent future begin to narrow as they near graduation, but for those who are part of Y.A.L.E. School’s unique Standard 9 Transition Program, doors begin to open.

Y.A.L.E. School is a state-approved private school serving students with autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, social learning challenges, ADHD and other disabilities across 11 campuses in southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. Since 1976, school districts and parents have relied on Y.A.L.E. to educate students who need more than public schools can offer. Today, more than 560 students with disabilities are placed by 80 area school districts, and attend at no cost to parents.

Standard 9 offers students, ages 18 to 21, vocational and pre-vocational assessment and instruction, job coaching, self-advocacy
skills, recreation skills, community living skills and mobility and transportation training. Launched in 2005, “Standard 9” refers to New
Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards in the area of readiness for adult life. Y.A.L.E.’s unique multi -tiered transition program builds employment skills, adult living skills and college readiness. Federal law allows students with disabilities to remain in school through the end of the school year in which they turn 21. “Y.A.L.E. School recognizes that students need to become competent, self-directed citizens in their community, whether they are going on to higher education or preparing for the working world,” says Peggy Chapman, assistant director at Y.A.L.E. School.

For 21-year-old Sara Hausler, participation in Standard 9 has been a dream come true. A resident of Mount Laurel, Hausler has attended Y.A.L.E School since 10th grade. While at Y.A.L.E.’s flagship program in Cherry Hill, she learned the nuts and bolts of financial self-management, self-advocacy and social skills.

This year, Hausler was one of eight students in Standard 9’s Project SEARCH, a national model that enables students with disabilities to access several internships at a single host business during their final year of school. At Kennedy Health System, the local home of Project SEARCH, Hausler gained skills and experience. Working in partnership with the NJ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities, Hausler now has a job offer.

“Project SEARCH creates a systematic bridge between the school, adult service agencies and community employment. With extensive exposure to a work environment, students like Sara can be ready for competitive employment when they graduate,” adds Chapman.

In addition to jobs, Standard 9 also prepares students for college and higher education through partnerships with Camden County College and Rowan College at Burlington County.

Will Reid, a resident of Mount Laurel, came to Y.A.L.E. in 11th grade because his family and school district wanted him to gain preparation for college in Standard 9. With support from Y.A.L.E., Reid has learned to manage the social and academic demands of college. Now in his final year in Standard 9, and having earned credits at Camden County College, he will transfer to a four-year college to study marine biology. While in Standard 9, Reid performed in a college production of Little Shop of Horrors and joined up with the Moorestown Theater Company where he takes part in several shows.

Getting into college or getting a job is only part of the equation. Standard 9’s “Mobility Matters” curriculum prepares students to navigate
their communities. Whether the goal is learning to use public transportation or earning a driver’s license, Mobility Matters gets students ready. Y.A.L.E.’s DriveSafety® program helps students get a feel for “the open road” within the safety of the classroom through a state-of the- art virtual driving simulator located on campus. They also receive assistance preparing for and taking the written driver’s test.

Y.A.L.E. School’s motto is ‘…Where evidence-based learning and compassion come together,’ and part of that evidence is the positive attitudes—and outcomes—of graduates. Each year, Y.A.L.E. School convenes the Standard 9 students and graduates to share success stories, seek advice and motivate one another to pursue their dreams for work, college and relationships.

“The concern and encouragement we have for our students follows them long after graduation,” concludes Chapman. “Each student has a vision for the future—our task is to help them see that vision clearly and move toward it step-by-step until it becomes a reality.” 

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (June, 2017).
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