In 2017, the leadership at Gateway Academy launched the ADVANCE Immersive Transition Program – a post-high school program for young adults with learning and social differences who yearn to experience their highest level of independence.
In the course of working and communicating with Gateway’s graduates, as well as investigating the trajectory of many young people with differences, we noticed an alarming number of these capable graduates “fail to launch”. They find themselves living at home with parents, unemployed or underemployed, and having difficulty using the skills and opportunities they worked so hard to acquire in high school. They see their friends and peers moving on with their lives and recognize that they are falling behind, but lack the initiative or confidence to engage in independent living. Research shows that these young adults are at high risk for mental health decline, social isolation, and low self-esteem.
There is an answer.
ADVANCE grew out of the realization that, in addition to the valuable interventions provided throughout their education, many graduates with disabilities need more time and training to harness the social and intellectual maturity to succeed as an adult. ADVANCE was created as a direct response to the need for an outcome-based transition program for young men and women with autism, ADHD, anxiety, and other social differences that can be obstacles to achieving independence. With the vast resources of Houston and the experience of Gateway Academy’s transition and placement services, the seed was planted, and the program began to grow.
Before we became a provider of an adult transition program, we were a consumer. We visited, conferred with, and referred to many different programs across the United States. This experience gave us the unique opportunity to understand the strengths and unique qualities of each of these programs. It gave us a perspective of how important the right “fit” was for the student achievement.
The programs we used, and other that have emerged since then, provide great services for very specific populations and subsets of individuals with differences. Many do not focus on defined outcomes (transferable skills, self-advocacy, independent living) after two years. Rather, these programs provide a safe, supportive community for an individual to live in for longer periods, and at times indefinitely. Other programs focus on entry level employment or unskilled labor. While some of our students enjoy this type of work, we target jobs that engage the students’ talents and provide opportunities for advancement and socialization. Others still, are focused on success in college or work. We are not a college program or a vocational program: We are an independence program that focuses on the skills that, when mastered, build success in any path that a person might choose.
Specifically, our program is different because the focus is strategy-based versus curriculum or task-based. We focus on the natural progression of skills, supporting our students as they adapt to independence through organic accountability. We work with young adults to build new structures in their lives to manage the competing responsibilities of health, relationships, and work or education. All of our students begin the program in the same place, but as they develop and display competency, they move at their own speed, unrestricted by modules or classes.
Ultimately, our students establish a unique path within our structured setting. They graduate with a sense of personal responsibility and skills to achieve self-sufficiency – the foundation for successful independence.