At 21 years old, my son, Donald, graduated from the NY Child Learning Institute, a school that my husband and I, and seven other families, co-founded in 1994, when Donald was two and diagnosed with autism. Donald attended "NYCLI" for 19 years and loved learning new things and interacting with peers at school.
However, Donald did not have great experiences participating in agency site based respite programs that we tried over the years. Donald, who is hypersensitive to sound and confusion, had no tolerance for participating in these programs and I worried for years about what would happen to Donald when he graduated from school. Other adults at his functioning level attend agency day habilitation programs; but these programs were not suitable for Donald. Would he have to be home? Would his participation in the community end? Would his education and learning stop at age 21?
The principal at Donald's school told me what I already knew, "there is no program that would work for Donald." But then she said something I didn't know, "there is a pilot program offered only in Long Island and Upstate NY that you must get for Donald. It is offered through OPWDD and its called Consolidated Supports and Services (now called Self Direction.)" And so my quest began to receive this service for Donald, which allows him: individualized and talented Staff, a person center program that allows him to work on his customized goals at his pace and a Team of dedicated professionals that support his life and his plan.
Part of Donald's goals is to continue his education, enhance his communication skills, maintain fitness and health, and improve his socialization and community integration skills. Through a chance meeting, I discovered SNACK 21, a program for young adults that offers classes that help support Donald's plan and offer skill building to continue work on all of his goals. Donald currently takes classes in: technology, sports, music and art. But more then that, SNACK 21 offers Donald a place to socialize and communicate with his peers. Interaction and communication is fostered through programming and natural occurrences that are supported by Staff. It was a great day for my family when Donald, who is functionally non-verbal, identified his friend as "Jerry." What joy it brought us to know that Donald has friends, as he now also identifies, "Joey," as his friend!
SNACK 21 is a lifeline for Donald and my family, as the adult classes are all so interesting and offer Donald opportunities to learn and develop. Additionally, all of the Staff is extremely well trained, kind and professional at all times. Periodically, there are interesting trips into the community to increase the participant's familiarity with age appropriate venues and practice good behavior while mingling in NYC hot spots. And, the SNACK center is such a cheery place. I love visiting and seeing Donald surrounded by talented professionals, interacting with friends, learning new things in such a happy atmosphere. There is no place else like SNACK and we are very lucky that Donald is part of this program that he enjoys so much. Thank you SNACK 21!!!