Updated: May 16
As graduation neared for Mikayla, her family worried about what would come next for her. She still needed structure and support, but she no longer qualified for public school services. Thankfully Mikayla found a spot in the Connections Adult Program (CAP) where she has continued building essential skills.
At this time last year, Mikayla was preparing for high school graduation at the age of 21, a time at which services are no longer available through the public school system. It's referred to as "aging out." Over the years at Connections, Mikayla had gotten to know the teachers and staff well and had thrived in their care. "They had become a second family to her," says Mikayla's mom, Jen.
"We were very nervous. We wondered what we were going to do and where she would go next," says Jen.
While graduation is an exciting time for most, it comes with great uncertainty for families of students with autism who still need structure and support to stay safe and engaged. That was the case for Mikayla. "We were very nervous. We wondered what we were going to do and where she would go next," says Jen.
Mikayla was fortunate to secure a spot in the Connections Adult Program (CAP), a year-round day program for adult clients with autism. CAP gives clients a structured, supportive environment where they can continue developing social skills, communication abilities, safety awareness, independent-living skills, vocational abilities and even leisure skills. Clients also take on volunteer projects that enable them to build additional skills while contributing to the community.
According to Jen, CAP has been an excellent "next" for Mikayla. She has formed friendships with her peers and become more independent and capable. "She has learned to sort the laundry, fold her clothes, make her bed without being asked, vacuum the rugs and help in the kitchen. Now she's even learning about money and talking about budgeting," says Jen.
"Connections is a really special place, and that's because of the people who work there. They really care about the kids. Mikayla has been with them for many years, and we would never consider putting her anywhere else," says Jen.
Mikayla has also benefited from the community outings with CAP that have helped her try new activities and overcome certain fears. "She used to be afraid of big mammals and would run away with her ears covered if we came across a large reptile or turtle," says Jen. "But after swimming with dolphins during a field trip to the Keys and learning more about animals, she's less afraid. Now we can do more things together."
This year, Mikayla was one of the CAP clients who participated in the Recipes for Success program offered by Extraordinary Charities. Twice each week, clients went to Extraordinary Charities' commercial-grade kitchen and learned cooking skills step by step from an accomplished chef. At the end of the program, clients took the ServSafe Certification exam with accommodations. Mikayla passed the exam and now holds her ServSafe Certificate, opening the door to holding a job in the culinary industry.
The team at CAP is now working with her to develop additional employment skills and is hopeful to help her secure a job through which she can gain confidence and greater independence.
Mikayla's mom adds, "She is so social and loves meeting people. I hope she will be able to have a job where she can talk with people and help. It would make her feel important."
"Connections is a really special place, and that's because of the people who work there," continues Jen. "They really care about the kids. Mikayla has been with them for many years, and we would never consider putting her anywhere else."