No Boundaries: A Gem of a Program for Young Adults with Special Needs
We call them Cliff Hangers: Those children of ours with disabilities who have completed their mandated education.
They may have graduated from high school or may have reached the age where the state no longer has to pay for their education. Many have received a number of essential services and most have thrived in their elementary and high schools.
Then, they fall off the Cliff.
While more and more of our young adults with disabilities are pursuing community college, vocational programs, even four year colleges and universities, some cannot handle the demands of such programs and many do not graduate. For those who do graduate, a college diploma is not necessarily the key to professional employment. Many lack the social, emotional, or work skills needed to obtain or retain a good job. The employment world is not always a friendly, inclusive place for those who are seen as different or who need unique accommodations due to their disability.
What does their future hold?
Many parents, like me, spend their days and nights researching options for their young adult children with disabilities that might address these deficits and give our kids the chance they need to be successful, independent adults. Those programs are very few and far between. One such sleepless night last summer, I had the great fortune to read about a new program in Evanston called No Boundaries - Train for Work, Train for Life.
My son is in the inaugural class of No Boundaries, which began last October. He is attending No Boundaries full-time, but there is a half day option as well. Their approach is a unique blend of classroom work, including business etiquette, visits and lectures from executives in the business and social service arena, networking using social media, and door- to-door canvassing of neighborhood and area shops and businesses. Each student works with No Boundaries to set his or her own individual goals and works toward quantifiable improvement in each area. The program is small and the staff is warm and nurturing.
Recently, my son met the mayor of Evanston at the ribbon cutting, commemorating the new location of jjslist.com and No Boundaries. He takes public transportation there and back—one of his goals, and has met a variety of people in many agencies who can help him navigate the world. Best of all, he is not stuck in a classroom all day long—he gets out into the community most days. I have seen his confidence grow exponentially in just a few months. He is more relational and easier to converse with. The other day he told me that he was thinking about finding some “commonality” with a person he was going to be meeting for the first time later that week. Just thinking and talking in those very social terms is new for him.
I have always believed that what so many of our young adults with disabilities need is not just to sit passively in a classroom—they have done that most of their lives, but to actively get out there and interact with others. One of the best features of the No Boundaries program is that they are meeting and networking with people who can help them gain the valuable skills they need in the real world. They learn to use the computer to their benefit and get individualized attention from caring people who are well equipped to teach young adults with disabilities.
I am extremely grateful to JJ, Search-Inc., No Boundaries and its staff for teaching my son these valuable skills. If you have a “Cliffhanger” and want to learn more, please visit the No Boundaries website.
About the Author: Shari Cohen Forsythe is a teacher, writer and former attorney. She is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum published in April, 2013.