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Adults with autism learn independence at Emory

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | April 15, 2015

April is National Autism Awareness Month, but at Emory, our awareness and programming lasts all year. The Emory Autism Center, for example, is making use of the Emory University campus for an initiative to help adults with autism spectrum disorder learn and practice important life skills. The pilot program, called myLIFE, provides opportunities for young adults with autism to address issues that are important for independent living including interaction with other people, communicating their needs, participating in community events, engaging in health-related activities and getting around on public transportation.
 
“Studies show that people with autism spectrum disorder learn more about life when interacting with people their own age who do not have the same challenges,” explains Toni Thomas, program manager for adult services at the Emory Autism Center. “That’s one of the reasons we decided to make use of the Emory environment and availability of educated volunteers to help each myLIFE group member learn the skills they need to successfully participate in age-appropriate activities with their peers.”
 
The participants in this pilot program, which was partially funded by a grant from the Autism Foundation of Georgia, with additional support from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, are 18 years and older. The adults are being exposed to a whole spectrum of responsibilities. An apartment on the Emory campus provides a place where myLIFE participants can practice skills related to self-care needs, such as cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. It also provides a comfortable place where the group can hang out for social time together and with others.
 
Volunteer mentors take the participants to a variety of functions across the Emory campus, ride with them on the campus shuttles and dine together in the cafeteria. The American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge and Emory’s Wesley Woods offer opportunities for volunteer work. A volunteer nutritionist and students from the nursing and medical schools provide training in healthy living skills, and participants are required to join one of Emory’s campus athletic centers, which have generously provided discounted passes for each participant. Activities such as woodworking and gardening also are part of the program to introduce new hobbies or potential job skills. 
 
Thomas says she sees inspiring changes in the participants’ ability to deal with everyday experiences that most of us take for granted. “Our goal is to provide these young adults with every life experience possible, and being able to take advantage of our own campus has proven to be instrumental in their success.”
 
To contribute to autism research and programs at Emory, contact Margaret Lesesne, director of development for clinical programs, at margaret.lesesne@emory.edu or 404.778.4632.