“When C.J. started with us he was a 13-year-old disconnected teenager who flapped his hands as a way to cope,” said Donna Swanson, MSN, CS, APRN, Executive Director and co-founder of FOCUS Center for Autism. ”With the social skills and strategies he learned at FOCUS, he went on to college and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting. C.J. has been gainfully employed at Walgreen's Distribution Center with near perfect attendance since 2009!”
Swanson has the same hopes for the students in the Fresh Start School, a new state approved special education program for children 11-18 years old founded by FOCUS Center for Autism in 2016. The students’ accomplishments will be recognized at an awards ceremony to be held on June 21st at the Fresh Start School. The group of middle schoolers is moving onto 9th grade in the fall and two of the five graduates are headed to main stream schools. The remaining future freshmen are looking forward to another year at the Fresh Start School.
But before the next academic year begins, these students can continue their journey of self discovery with the Summer Social Skills Immersion Program offered by FOCUS in partnership with The Wilderness School of East Hartland. “The Wilderness School uses the natural environment as a tool for social learning and children have the perfect opportunity to work together and to learn to make friends,” notes Swanson.
Activities in the Summer Program include field trips into the community, hikes, arts and crafts, animal care, and non competitive sports. There are formal social learning groups and daily mindfulness lessons. Learning is ongoing throughout the day.
Older adolescents and young adults with ASD can stay connected with the FOCUS Young Adult Social clubs that meet twice a month on Friday evenings. Participants (ages 17-25) do not have to be enrolled in FOCUS to attend but must go through an application process.
Swanson notes there is a lack of support services available to young adults with Autism after they turn 21, making it difficult for them to find appropriate housing, secondary education, and employment. FOCUS also offers Life Skills groups for adolescents and young adults as well as a comprehensive Mentorship Program.
“Technically our students never ‘graduate’,” said Swanson. “They will always be a part of our FOCUS family and we will help them in any way that we can.”
Families who are interested in learning more about the FOCUS Center for Autism and enrolling in the Fresh Start School can call to make an appointment to arrange a tour.
Since 2000, the nonprofit FOCUS Center for Autism in Canton has been dedicated to helping children and young adults with autism spectrum and other related disorders achieve their full potential. FOCUS has developed a well-respected model of treatment that has now served over 800 children and families. The FOCUS Fresh Start School is a private, state approved special education program offering children with autism spectrum disorder a quality education experience that addresses both their academic and clinical needs. For more information visit http://focuscenterforautism.org or call (860) 693-8809.
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