New Focus Autonomy House
Transition programs for teens with autism offer evidence-based techniques merged with a passion to help teens reach their full potential
What is Autonomy House?
After several months as a resident at New Focus Academy, teens between 15 and 18 have the option to transition to the Autonomy House, where they have additional program privileges and more opportunities for independence.
The program is based on the Autonomy Development Model created by New Focus Academy’s Executive Director and Founder, Dr. Brandon Park, where staff becomes more of a resource as teens demonstrate that they are able to make more independent informed decisions.
As students progress through the program, the role of the treatment team transitions from caretaker to guide. This process helps provide the resources necessary to help students live as independently as possible while increasing their quality of life.
While living at Autonomy House, the focus of treatment becomes how to prepare for independent living and success later in life when they are a college student or employee at a company, rather than developing basic social skills and emotional intelligence needed to thrive in high school. Students who transition to the Autonomy House have demonstrated increased Social-Emotional Fluency and are prepared to practice the skills they’ve learned in the community.
Importance of Adaptive Skills for Teens on the Spectrum
For most teens on the spectrum, the biggest obstacles they face are outside of the classroom and in their social environment. For example, teens are expected to have a job or a volunteering commitment and are encouraged to create and manage their personal schedules with less staff supervision. This can be difficult for teens with autism that struggle with social anxiety, confidence, and organizational skills.
Integrating into the community after leaving a residential treatment center involves learning new adaptive skills, which refers to practical tasks related to self-care and responsibility that are necessary to effectively and independently take care of oneself and to interact with other people.
Some examples of adaptive skills include:
understanding and using verbal and nonverbal language
problem-solving, exercising choice, initiating and planning activities
maintaining friendships, understanding emotions, following rules
bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding oneself, and taking care of their health
cooking and cleaning
using reading, writing, and math skills in everyday life
shopping, using public transportation, using community services, participating in community events or in the workplace
- Age to participate: 15 years old to 18 years old
- Current resident at New Focus Academy
- Must have 3 to 4-month successful history with managing cell phone
- Must have a job or volunteer community commitment
- No history of violent/damaging outbursts within 2 months at NFA
- Good Neighbor for at least one month
- Respectful within the community while a resident at the house
- Able to demonstrate appropriate community involvement for 3 months at NFA
- This transition program for autism understands the unique challenges that these students face as they become independent adults. At the Autonomy House, teens are able to utilize local services, coordinate their own transportation to activities, use technology mindfully, manage their own money, and make connections with people in the community.
Preparing Teens with Autism for Transition to Adulthood
Many teens with autism graduate high school feeling completely unprepared for the challenges of the transition to young adulthood. Compared to their peers, they may be more sheltered and less willing to take risks or make independent decisions. As they often struggle socially, they are more likely to feel isolated and have trouble engaging in healthy social activities. Instead, they may spend a lot of time online or playing video games rather than interacting with others in the “real world.”
When it comes to thinking about the future, many teens with autism struggle with identifying their personal strengths and interests. They may delay applying for colleges if they are unsure about what they want to do or if they lack confidence in pursuing their interests.
Choosing a high school transition program after residential treatment helps teens on the spectrum maintain the support system that they’ve built and gives them the opportunity to practice the skills they’ve learned in a different environment. Many of the students we work with are rigid thinkers and like sticking to a strict routine, so they struggle with returning home once they no longer need a higher level of care, such as residential treatment. Maintaining the relationships they’ve made with staff at students at New Focus Academy by transitioning to a different level of care within the same program helps ease the transition back into a community setting.
Living at a transition program is great practice for independent living or living in a college dorm, where students still have support available but have more autonomy in choosing what their day looks like and what they might need support with. At this stage, staff are able to take a step back and offer guidance when needed, but trust that these teens are better able to practice healthy habits and adaptive skills.
The Autonomy House
- 4 bedrooms with 8 beds
- Close to services at New Focus Academy a few minutes away
- Located in the heart of the Heber City, Utah
- Walking distance to Main St, 2 blocks away
- Near public transport
- Able to coordinate own transportation to activities or interests
- Bike or walk in the community with the coaches’ permission
- Ability to use services within the city (ordering meals, gym membership, movies, bowling alley)
Resident Life at Autonomy House
- Students create own structure (meal planning including eating out and ordering food in on occasion, activities, time management)
- Creating and managing individual schedules with staff supervision
- Student-driven processing groups
- More phone/electronic privileges with Internet and chrome book access
- Ability to make and maintain friendships within the community as part of their social-emotional growth
- Managing own money with assistance/limits