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Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month: Celebrating differences, promoting inclusion

“The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need, they’ll make their own boxes.”
Temple Grandin, autism advocate

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in every 36 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In recognition of Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month in April, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health is celebrating the differences of children, adolescents and adults with autism, and promoting inclusion for these individuals in all aspects of community life.

“People with autism want what everyone wants – to feel valued, accepted and understood,” said Devereux Executive Director of Autism Services Todd Harris, Ph.D. “At Devereux, we help youth and adults with autism explore their interests, build upon their strengths and form meaningful connections to achieve the highest possible quality of life. We believe each individual has limitless potential, and it is up to all of us to unlock it.”

Supporting transition-age students

Data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics shows more than 7.5 million students received special education services in U.S. public schools in the 2022 to 2023 school year. More than 980,000 of those students had autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

For many students with ASD, the transition to adulthood can be challenging because their available supports change. When it comes to planning for this transition, Harris says, it is better to start early.

One way Devereux helps transition-age students with ASD prepare for university life, community integration and future employment is through its High School Youth Preparation for Higher Education (HYPE) program. HYPE is a two-year, after-school program at the Devereux Southeastern Pennsylvania Autism Resource Center (SPARC) in West Chester, Pennsylvania, that includes a two-week summer program at West Chester University.

“Many transition-age students may do well academically, but may struggle with social skills and executive functioning skills (such as planning work, organizing materials and time, and problem-solving),” noted Harris. “We developed this program to help students who are entering their junior year of high school build those skills in preparation for college and the next chapter of their lives. The results are impressive. In our first group of six students who completed the program, all six are in college this year, either full- or part-time. In our most recent group of six who are on target to complete the program, three have been accepted to four-year colleges, two are extending their time in the education system by taking a college course and one is undecided.”

Devereux’s autism services

In addition to HYPE, Devereux offers a wide range of autism services to help individuals lead more fulfilling, productive and socially-connected lives. The organization’s programs, which are offered through lifespan, include:

Children and adolescents

Transition-age young adults

Adults

“We continually look for ways to advance our services, our industry and the lives of those entrusted to our care,” said Harris. “We recently rolled out a new staff training and support program for our behavioral health professionals who serve individuals, age 21 and younger, with ASD and intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition, we are working to develop procedures for teaching autistic individuals we serve how to use speech-generating devices.”

“Our work also extends beyond the walls of Devereux,” Harris continued. “We developed the ‘Alternative Route to Teacher Certification’ program, a yearlong teacher certification program that trains teachers in Delaware how to utilize evidence-based practices in their classrooms, and we are providing consultation services for a school district in Delaware on how to teach autistic students to communicate more effectively.”

Learn more about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health’s autism programs and services.

*Note: We are using person-first and identify-first language in this article to be inclusive of everyone’s preferences.

  

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