Jewish Journal

Independence for teens with special needs

by Rachel Wizenfeld

Posted on May. 2, 2012 at 11:57 am

Most freshmen feel overwhelmed during their first year at college. But for Sarah Selinger, a 19-year-old woman from West Los Angeles, her first semester at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), was almost unbearable.

“In the beginning of the school year, I didn’t know how to get from the classroom to the dorm without panicking,” she said.

A graduate of Summit View School, a Help Group K-12 school for students with learning differences, Selinger faced other challenges at CSUN, including learning her way around campus, adjusting to larger classes and following the fast-moving subject matter. 

For support, Selinger and her parents turned to Advance LA. Organized by The Help Group, a local nonprofit that offers programs for children and young adults with special needs, Advance LA provided Selinger with coaching that helped her find her way to class as well as improve her social life and her GPA.

“[We noticed that] a lot of students who graduated and were going to college needed continued support to succeed,” Help Group COO Susan Berman said.

Berman says that Advance LA, which provides workshops, social clubs, coaching and transition services to teens and young adults with special needs, has grown to serve a few hundred clients since its launch a year and a half ago, and she expects that the program will serve a thousand in just a few years. Berman says some students need tutoring while others need help with time management and organization, independent living skills or learning how to advocate for themselves. 

On May 11, Advance LA is hosting “Prep.Launch.Elevate: Supporting Teens and Young Adults in Their Transition to Independence” at American Jewish University (AJU), its first conference on preparing teens and young adults with special needs for life after high school. The daylong conference is aimed at parents, educators, clinicians, researchers and students, with continuing education credits available for professionals.

“Prep.Launch.Elevate” will feature workshops and speakers, including Peter Gerhardt, chairman of the Scientific Council for the Organization of Autism Research; Richard Guare, director of the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders in Portsmouth, N.H., and co-author of “Smart but Scattered”; Elizabeth Laugeson, director of The Help Group-UCLA Neuropsychology Program; and Dr. Lou Vismara, board chair of the UC Davis MIND Institute.

In addition to the conference, Advance LA is planning a one-week Summer College Institute in August at AJU to help prepare teens and young adults with special needs for college and the workplace.

Although Selinger receives accommodations from CSUN, like a dedicated note taker in some classes and extra time for tests, she says her classes are still challenging. She credits Advance LA’s coaching with helping her to advocate for herself and talk to her professors about her disabilities, which include seizures and ADD. 

“I do not believe she would still be in school if not for Advance LA,” said Henry Selinger, her father. “It was just a lifesaver for us. She’s grown and grown from getting 20 to 25 hours a week [of coaching] down to four to five hours a week.”

He added proudly, “She’s getting really good grades — a lot of A’s, and passing a tough math class.” 

For more information, visit advancela.org.

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