Prepping for the Real World
A generation ago, Andrew Fregoe would have been in a special education class with minimal independence and an uncertain future. Fortunately for him and countless others, our society recognizes the challenges faced by individuals with autism and is providing services for them to move forward.
Andrew, 20, graduated from Gates Chili High School two years ago, lives at home and goes to Nazareth College for classes in the Arc’s LifePrep program, which is helping to prepare him for employment. Andrew loves his new iPad Air and plans to work with computers. The Arc of Monroe’s partnership with Nazareth College is paving the way.
As part of the program, Andrew gets to take one Nazareth College course each semester as a guest, in addition to plenty of LifePrep coursework to help prepare him for the real world. Andrew decided to take “Spreadsheet Applications for Microsoft Excel” this semester.
“I really like it, he said. “I never knew Excel could do so much. Now I’m creating pivot tables in a computer lab and I know how to use the numbers function on my iPad. We’re using a textbook called “Succeeding in Business” that has a case study about using Excel to run a business. We chart sales through graphs and other tools and it’s easy to do. Sometimes I think Excel is smarter than I am,” he added.
For Andrew, the college experience goes way beyond the classroom, which is as it should be. He maintains the laptop carts for three academic departments – chemistry, education and information technology – to ensure they are always user ready. He is active in the college radio station, volunteering for a weekly on-air shift. And through the Life Prep program, he’s learned to do laundry (in the dorms, of course).
LifePrep@Naz is a four-year program launched three years ago by the Arc, Nazareth and Victor Central Schools to assist young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities in transitioning to adulthood. Andrew and 19 classmates are in the third year of the four-year program. They will then pursue employment in the field of their choice. Life Prep has equipped them with the skills to do so, with coursework ranging from making a good first impression on an employer to acing an interview.
“When I first heard about the program it seemed pretty cool to me and something I’d want to sign up for,” said Andrew. “I am basically learning job and life skills, but the overall goal is to get a job.”
Kathrine Basal, who manages LifePrep for the Arc, is impressed with Andrew’s progress since he began the program. “There’s been a huge improvement,” she said. “He’s come so far in terms of being socially appropriate, to the point that he seeks us out now if he’s unsure how to react in a given situation.”
“He’s growing socially. It’s good for him just being around others his age, his peers, in a community setting. It’s helped his self-esteem and confidence. He can be very reserved but also very outgoing. Andrew is also extremely caring. We’ve done disability awareness classes as part of LifePrep, so he’s become more aware of how different disabilities affect people. He’s very interested in others’ disabilities.”
Andrew also understands the impact the Arc has made on his life. He has the business cards of each staff person who assists him and shares them proudly (Joshua Hines and Scott Denning at Job Path, Steve Lewis at Arc Works, Kathrine at LifePrep, Beth Rapke and Joelle Hall at Arc Health). “They’ve all been helpful to me,” said Andrew.
This network of support has afforded Andrew with opportunities that those born a generation ago with a similar disability could have only dreamed of. His life today speaks to the power of community partnerships and technology, but more importantly changing societal attitudes about those with disabilities and the worth of all individuals. Andrew is living proof of this profound change.
“Nazareth took some getting used to since it’s so different from high school,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable in the beginning but now I know my way around.”
Andrew could just as well have been speaking about his journey into adulthood.