As Arizona families send their children off to school this month, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), First Place and GateWay Community College are going in a partnership that will allow adults with autism to attend college classes to learn independent living, interpersonal and career readiness skills. Classes started this week.
As a result of this partnership, students enrolled at GateWay Community College can pursue a non-credit certificate in Independent Living Skills and Career Development. This certificate is a first in the Maricopa Community College District. Students will receive their certificate after completing four semesters of courses work in advocacy, personal safety, conflict resolution, interpersonal relations, food and nutrition, transition and career education. SARRC’s Lead Instructor, Brad Herron-Valenzuela, will provide class instruction as an adjunct professor.
“Through the First Place Transition Academy, operated by SARRC, we are teaching our students the skills they need to live successful independent lives. One way we do this is by providing experiences in the community and on a college campus like GateWay, which is an ideal location,” said SARRC President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Openden.
“Our collaboration with First Place and SARRC supports our mission of providing opportunities and access for all individuals,” said GateWay President Steve Gonzales. “We are thrilled to be part of a partnership that helps students be successful in life and work.”
First Place Executive Director Jeff Ross, who spearheaded the collaboration for more than a year, hopes students will take advantage of all the campus has to offer. “First Place students will have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of college life at GateWay and may enroll in other class offerings at the college or Maricopa Skills Center,” said Ross. “We are thankful to GateWay for supporting this approach and together, hope this partnership helps convey that higher education is not beyond the reach of adults with autism.”
According to the National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood, 74% of young adults on the autism spectrum have not attended postsecondary educational institution, including two-year and four-year colleges, at some time between high school and their early 20s. In addition, four out of five young adults on the autism spectrum have never lived independently (away from parents without supervision) between high school and their early 20s.
The handful of First Place Transition Academy students starting classes today are eager to begin their new college experiences. One student commented, “I am most excited to meet new people and friends and to start a new chapter in my life. Let’s go, Geckos!”
First Place students will receive in-class accommodations as needed and can take advantage of disability resources offered by GateWay. GateWay is a leader in recognizing the abilities of these students and is proving a pathway to independence and employment. In the future, students will have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of college life at GateWay and may enroll in other classes.