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Devereux SPARC’s HYPE Program helps prepare students with autism for university life


The Devereux Southeastern Pennsylvania Autism Resource Center and Devereux Pennsylvania Community Adult Autism Partnership Program recently partnered with West Chester University to create a specialized program for high school students with autism spectrum disorders.

The Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Southeastern Pennsylvania Autism Resource Center (SPARC) and Devereux Pennsylvania Community Adult Autism Partnership Program (CAAPP) recently partnered with West Chester University (WCU) to create a specialized program for high school students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The High School Youth Preparation for Higher Education (HYPE) Program is a two-year, after-school program at Devereux SPARC in West Chester, Pa., that includes a two-week summer program at West Chester University. The goal of this program is to provide transition-age students with ASD an opportunity to prepare for university life, community integration and future employment.

“The transition to college is challenging, in a variety of ways, for all students,” said Devereux SPARC Director Jennifer Dawson, Ph.D., BCBA, LBS (PA). “For individuals with autism, those challenges can be amplified, and available supports are typically only related to actual academics. A transition program that focuses on multiple core areas, such as executive functioning, relationships, self-care and self-advocacy can help students develop the skills needed to maximize their independence and thrive.”

About the HYPE Program

The HYPE Program will provide students with meaningful learning experiences, including:

  • Weekly, two-hour, after-school classes with hands-on learning experiences during the school year
  • Utilization of a structured peer mentoring program
  • Implementation of a parent education and support program that meets on a monthly basis
  • Summer program that includes instruction and campus experiences (including overnight stays in a dormitory) at West Chester University

The program is designed to help students in the following ways:

  • Assisting in preparation for post-secondary education and employment
  • Increasing self-determination abilities
  • Enhancing communication, social and problem-solving skills
  • Improving management and organization of time, as well as materials related to school or work
  • Augmenting skills related to independent living (e.g., money management, weekly schedule planning, meal planning/preparation, cleaning and organizing living areas, laundry, self-care)
  • Increasing skills related to community integration and the ability to live with roommates in a dormitory/apartment setting
  • Developing routines that increase health and safety (e.g., healthy eating habits, exercise, hygiene, managing medical appointments)

“When individuals with autism are not successful in university settings, it is not usually because of academic shortcomings. Deficits in social skills, problem-solving and time management are typically what lead to performance issues and a lack of success,” explained Devereux Executive Director of Autism Services Todd Harris, Ph.D. “The HYPE Program focuses on teaching these critical skills while students are still attending high school.”

Student eligibility

To be eligible for the HYPE Program, students must:

  • Have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
  • Attend classes independently, requiring little or no 1:1 support
  • Plan to attend a two- or four-year college or university to pursue a degree

“This is a unique program, where you have full collaboration between a community provider (Devereux) and a higher education institution (WCU) in the development and implementation of the curriculum,” noted WCU Director of Autism Services/Dub-C Autism Program (D-CAP) Cherie Fishbaugh MA, BCBA, LBS (PA). “The WCU team consists of staff from the autism program (D-CAP) and the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD), as well as the chair of special education – all working equally with Devereux SPARC and Devereux Pennsylvania CAAPP to create this much-needed program and help students achieve their dreams.”

Learn more about the HYPE Program, and how to apply.


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