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Nicole Hipp

Advocacy Project Justification

Professor Lori Bedell

14 April 2019

Transition to Adult Life Event

Children with autism and autism spectrum disorders are cared for and assisted

academically throughout grade school but are then left to plan their career and life after

graduation by themselves. Most adolescents with autism experience challenges with speech and

nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors, and social skills making it more difficult to plan

for the future independently. For this project, I wanted to investigate the opportunities that Penn

State offers to children with autism spectrum disorders. My objectives for this project were to

learn more about the opportunities currently provided and to offer my assistance. I wanted to be

a voice for the students and to identify where their programs needed a few more helping hands.

I would like to point out that I did an Issue Brief project about the transition period for

those with autism spectrum disorders. From my research for the brief, I learned about a program

for young adults here at Penn State called LifeLink. Founded in 2003, LifeLink works in

collaboration with the State College Area School District Department of Special Education and

over five hundred college mentors. The goal of LifeLink and participants is to engage students to

accomplish independence in academic skills, enrichment, vocational skills, social skills, and

recreation activities in the community.

Using my online research and prior knowledge from my issue brief project, I reached out

to Mrs. Sharon Salter, The Director of Special Education for The State College Area School
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District. From there, Mrs. Salter directed me to three Autistic Support Teachers, Mrs. Judy

Brooks, Mrs. Clairen Percival, and Mrs. Donna Bach. I met with both Mrs. Brooks and Mrs.

Percival in early April to discuss potential project ideas and they suggested volunteering in the

classroom with students and helping them prepare for interviews for potential jobs. Mrs. Bach

was able to answer a few questions specifically relating to the transition period and what happens

at the high school. She also put me in contact with Mrs. Ellen Cannizzarro, the coordinator of

LifeLink. After meeting with Mrs. Cannizzarro, she informed me of the Transition to Adult Life

event that was to take place on April 9, 2019 and mentioned how it would be perfect to help

students prepare for their future and discover the different programs offered to children with

autism spectrum disorders.

For the second annual Transition to Adult Life Event, students from LifeLink and State

College Area High School gathered in the cafeteria of State College High School along with

their families and over twenty different agencies. Each classroom also brought a homemade soup

or chili to offer their guests. This event was able to provide an overview of the transition process

and allow students and their families to interact with agencies and programs that assist young

adults with autism spectrum disorders meet post-secondary goals. The main goal of the event

was to inform high school families of the options for after high school and to inform LifeLink

families of potential job opportunities.

On April 9, 2019 at 4:00pm I went to State College Area High School to assist students

prepare for the night. I was paired with a young lady from LifeLink named Kathleen and

together we were tasked as servers for the night. Although this event was similar to a career fair,

there were a few key differences due to the audience in attendance. The agencies were geared
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towards children with autism and students were asked to dress comfortably, rather than in

business casual. During the night, it was extremely crucial to be cognizant of my surroundings

and word choices. When interacting with children who have autism it is important to be

deliberate, explain overlooked details, and be extremely descriptive. For example, before we

started serving, I was instructed to inform Kathleen to wash her hands, tie her hair up, ask her not

to touch her face or body when working with the food, and go over proper serving manners.

These minor details would be overlooked when dealing with a ‘neurotypical.’ This event was

also held in a very neutral setting where all of the students were very comfortable. By the end of

the night Kathleen had two interviews planned.

There were could be two main audiences for this project depending how it is interpreted;

the children and family members in attendance, as well as society. After gaining broader

knowledge about the LifeLink program, I began coordinating with my ROTC cadre members

about forming a mentorship program in conjunction with LifeLink. This is currently a work in

progress for next semester. Some of my key messages were informing students about their

options after high school and volunteering with a local organization. The main basis of this

project is helping adolescents with autism spectrum disorders gain access to proper post-

secondary opportunities that help them achieve their goals. Although it was not part of my

official plan, I hope to jumpstart a mentorship program that involves the ROTC program and

LifeLink organization to better integrate cooperation into society. Overall, I believe Transition to

Adult Life was a success because it sparked new ideas, helped Kathleen land a job at the

bookstore, and informed society about the transition programs offered in the community.