Kennedy Ctr. Launches Program for Young Adults with Autism

Bridgeport, CT - Transitioning from high school into the real world, whether you are entering college or employment, can be overwhelming for any young person. However, for a young person with a disability, the transition can be even more daunting. 

For this reason, The Kennedy Center, together with Fairfield University, has created a new transition preparedness program, Transition Opportunities for Postsecondary Success (TOPS), to address a multitude of social challenges, independent living skills and self-advocacy for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 
This first-of-its-kind program will be led by Kennedy Center staff, and Fairfield University interns and graduate students in the Special Education Department at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions. 
"The Kennedy Center is delighted to work with Fairfield University on this exciting pilot project,” said Martin D. Schwartz, President and CEO of The Kennedy Center. “Many students with ASD are highly capable of succeeding at a university academically but often are challenged due to the lack of critical social and life skills. TOPS will concentrate on helping participants build self-esteem and confidence and help manage stress and anxiety in new experiences. The program will also focus on communication, decision-making, time and money management, and personal safety issues to help prepare students with ASD for life after high school."
TOPS is geared to any student age 18 to 21 with Asperger’s or High Autism, who is considering college or employment. The weekly sessions run from September until December. 
Ariel Gagliardo, Supervisor of Therapeutic Services at The Kennedy Center, who oversees this groundbreaking program, noted, “This session is full to capacity with 10 participants and a waiting list. We are thrilled with the response from the community. There was obviously a great need for this important program.” 
Alyson Martin, PhD, co-director and assistant professor of Special Education at Fairfield University, added, "The Special Education Program is thrilled to implement this innovative initiative with The Kennedy Center. Through feedback from graduate students enrolled in the Special Education program, we found that pre-service special educators are not provided sufficient training in critical topics in the field, such as knowledge about transition services and hands-on experiences working with students with ASD. We hope to learn new ways to engage graduate students' field experiences working on necessary skills for successful transitions for students with ASD, and to integrate these learnings into curricula. It is hoped that the program will have additional, broader benefits including raising awareness of autism among students and faculty on campus."
This program comes at a crucial time for college-ready students with ASD due to recent state budget cuts for such transitional services. The program will leverage curriculum used by The Kennedy Center’s Autism Project in response to parent requests to address gaps in service for young adults living with ASD.
These programs are offered through The Kennedy Center’s Autism Project, a program dedicated to providing affordable comprehensive programs and services to families and children with ASD.  Since 2006, The Autism Project has served more than 500 families and has become one of the leading providers in Fairfield and New Haven Counties of these supports for children with ASD and their families.
Specifically, The Autism Project provides year-round activities and supports for children 3 to 21, including: social skills groups, behavioral services, respite services, recreational groups, family support services and information/referral services.
For more information, contact: Ariel Gagliardo at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 203-332-4535, ext. 258 or visit www.thekennedycenterinc.org.

The Kennedy Center, founded in 1951, is an internationally accredited, non-profit, community-based rehabilitation organization that currently serves over 2,000 individuals annually. The agency actively responds to the needs of the community by offering innovative, comprehensive service options to persons with disabilities and special needs, from birth to senior years. The Kennedy Center operates 30 community experience programs, 16 group homes, an industries program composed of six businesses, supported and competitive employment and job placement services, a family support and respite service, travel training, and a variety of children’s programs.  


Graduating from high school and entering college or employment like the students pictured here can be a big adjustment for any young person. The Kennedy Center has partnered with Fairfield University and hascreated a new transition preparedness program, Transition Opportunities for Postsecondary Success (TOPS), to help young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – a first in the region.



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