by Christina Hovatter
I joined Urban Autism Solutions in 2018. As a new graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago, I was eager to hit the ground running. My first task: develop a curriculum for a pilot program for the new transition academy; which is known today as the UAS West Side Transition Academy.
The UAS West Side Transition Academy is not a school. We are not teachers in the sense that we stand in front of a classroom and provide instruction in math or science. Instead, the academy provides essential life and work-related skills to young adults, including Chicago Public High School Students, with autism and related conditions. With our support, these participants learn how to thrive in adulthood.
The reality is, once young adults turn 22, all of their autism and social-related services come to a halt. That can be pretty scary for everyone involved including teachers and parents. The academy acts as a buffer between high school and adulthood.
Here, students build skills in productivity and identify their future goals with help from our team of seasoned clinicians and graduate students in social services. From our innovative learning modules in communication to job shadows at local businesses, our work sets these students up for post-secondary success. Aside from formalities, the academy teaches so much more than work-related skills, we teach how to overcome barriers.
Our team gets to know every student individually to identify their personal strengths and learn about obstacles that hinder their participation in the community (including the ability to get to a job and back).
This summer I was truly humbled when I found out two of our participants did not have food in their home of nine. I don't just mean that there were no fun snacks to enjoy after school... there was no food. Another student had been in pain for months with an untreated medical condition that caused her to limp. She had not been to a doctor and didn't want to be a burden to anyone by asking for help.
Without thinking twice, our team devised a plan to provide specific attention to these individuals by teaching them how to get to a local food pantry and back to their house using public transportation. Simultaneously, we were working to ensure that a free and reduced transit card could be obtained. I also spent the day at Stroger Hospital getting much needed and overdue medical attention for our participant who had been in a lot of pain.
I have learned so many things while at UAS and with the academy, and I am proud of the work we are doing. Since the start of the pilot program I devised back in 2018, the UAS West Side Transition Academy has more than doubled and hosts students from multiple schools on Chicago's West Side.
At the end of the day, I can proudly say that Urban Autism Solutions is making a positive impact on the lives of our students whether it is supporting their dreams and ambitions or simply helping them navigate the bus system.
There is still so much more work to do and I hope you will join our journey.
Thanks to dedicated team members like Christina, young adults with autism and related disabilities receive the highest quality experiences in their vocational training and social opportunities. You too can help young adults with autism by donating to Urban Autism Solutions; all proceeds go towards the efficiency and growth of our programming.