Transition programs help young adults become self-reliant

By Catherine Robertson Souter
January 6th, 2022
Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, program director, College Internship Program (CIP) Berkshire
Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, program director, College Internship Program (CIP) Berkshire.

As any parent knows, sending your nearly-adult child out into the world, whether to college, the military, or the working world, is bittersweet. While mourning the passage of time and saying goodbye to their daily presence can be difficult, there is also a sense of pride in watching your child square his or her shoulders and face the world, ready to take it on.

But what of those children who, for one reason or another, cannot take those steps? Or those who take the steps only to admit defeat and return home?

For some young adults, stepping out on their own is a natural, joyful progression in life. For others, the tools and skills, confidence or support required may be lacking. Over the past few decades, transition programs have sprouted up to help young adults move toward self-reliance with support and education on everything from basic life skills to achieving success in college and beyond.

Transition programs take on a variety of forms, from state-supported community services to residential programs, which take a fully immersive approach to helping young adults.

There are those, like the College Internship Program (CIP) in Lee, Mass, that focus on young adults on the autism spectrum and with learning differences, and others, like Cornerstones of Maine, that see young adults with mood or anxiety disorders, social skills deficits, or a lack of motivation.

"We live in such a complicated time where careers look different than they used to and family life looks different than it used to and mental health challenges are more complex." --Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, program director, College Internship Program (CIP) Berkshire

It is a field that has grown exponentially to address a need that was first studied widely in the 1970s.

“I think 35-plus years ago, there was not a whole lot out there so this is why our founder, Dr. Michael McManmon, created CIP,” said Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, program director at CIP Berkshire. “But now there are so many more programs. Some may focus more on the college piece and others on the career/internship piece.”

With its year-round apartment-style residential program, CIP aims to provide a comprehensive array of services under one roof. Residents participate in college classes, volunteer work in the community, employment or social activities, where they practice skills they are learning in the program.

The school develops an individualized program for each resident with support in areas like social and life skills, executive functioning, college academics, and career development.

“As Stephen Shore once said, one student with autism is one student with autism and that is so true. We have to individualize the program,” said Knauss. “I believe we do what we say we do here in carrying out the curriculum and really tailoring it to meet the needs of young adults on the autism spectrum.”

At Cornerstones, the typical resident may be slightly different, presenting with anxiety and depression, but much of that may stem from their feeling lost in the world, left behind by high school friends who went off to school and post on carefully curated social media feeds all about their amazing lives.

“Our typical population is colloquially known as ‘failure to launch,'” said Jacob Gelles, Psy.D, co-founder and administrative director of Cornerstones.

Gelles, along with colleague Joshua Altschule, Psy.D., started the school in 2015 to provide an option for young adults to reach their full potential. The program features therapeutic work along with academic re-engagement and the teaching of life skills and habit building.

Cornerstone sees many young adults who finished high school but do not function well, if at all, in a college setting or on their own. They return home and find themselves falling behind peers and becoming depressed and unable to progress as would be developmentally expected.

“One of the biggest emphases of the program is habit building,” said Gelles. “And this is not some sort of ‘magical habits of successful people,’ but things we all do every day, like waking up and checking your calendar in the morning and planning your day.”

While the clients may present with different issues, the main tenets of transition programs remain similar: introducing all the skills and tools that are needed for a young adult to become self-reliant. As Knauss pointed out, it’s really the type of help anyone could use.

“Every human being needs support,” she said. “We live in such a complicated time where careers look different than they used to and family life looks different than it used to and mental health challenges are more complex.”

“The number one thing I hear from families or siblings who tour CIP, who are considered neurotypical,” she said, “is ‘Gosh I wish I had that kind of support when was in college.'”

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