Friday, February 8, 2008

City program westward bound

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff

This summer, Tucson, Ariz., will be the first place outside New Haven with its own Chapel Haven.
The program will teach independent living skills to young adults with mild autism, and offer itself as a research source for the nearby University of Arizona speech, language and hearing department, said Betsey Parlato, the agency’s executive director.
Chapel Haven, a local nonprofit agency, made a national name for itself with innovative residential programs that helped people with severe cognitive and social disabilities to learn how to live independently.
Chapel Haven West in Arizona, slated to open June 30, will be the first of what could be many future programs around the United States replicating the New Haven curriculum and model.
The two-year residential program for high-functioning autistic students will focus on social communication and independent living skills. Autism is a brain disorder that affects social interaction, interpersonal communication and creativity. Those who suffer from the disorder may lack awareness of how other people feel, have trouble communicating and have trouble interacting with the external environment.
Autistic students need to learn social interaction and social behavior in different settings, Parlato said.
Most of the teaching will take place in University of Arizona classrooms and social settings, she added.
“We will them how to go into a cafeteria to have lunch, to go into the cafeteria and not be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells, how to talk to someone they don’t know, how to sit with someone they don’t know,” Parlato said.
Program participants can concurrently enroll at the university for a degree.
For years, families in the West have clamored to have a Chapel Haven program closer to their homes, Parlato said. Most communities, however, could not muster enough support for the intensive and extensive programs Chapel Haven uses.
Nonetheless, Parlato began making inquiries about a good location to expand Chapel Haven. She found the ideal location right near her vacation home in Tucson, where she started her search.
The Tucson Alliance for Autism and University of Arizona immediately teamed up to show Chapel Haven it would have overflowing support and excellent resources in Tucson.
Chapel Haven West will be based just outside the University of Arizona in Tucson. Parlato said the university has impressive resources for students with disabilities and a strong curriculum in disability studies and speech pathology.
The new center will be within walking distance of the University of Arizona, where Chapel Haven students will be permitted full use of facilities of the Disabilities Resource Center, which include a fitness center and computer lab with adaptive technology, as well the Strategic Alternative Learning Center, which offers fee-based support services and tutoring for disabled students.
Chapel Haven West will have slots for 30 students; tuition and fees will be $51,000 a year.
Chapel Haven West will have 17 staff members and 30 students, and, to date, 14 students have put down deposits. Chapel Haven programs get pricey as the amount of time in intensive one-on-one coaching increases.
Chapel Haven started its transition to independent living program for young adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Once students graduate the two-year program, they moved into nearby homes in Westville and are able to continue to socialize at Chapel Haven, maintain contact with teachers, and take continuing education classes. In the past few years, Chapel Haven added another program specifically for young adults with Asperger’s syndrome, a brain disorder on the autism spectrum that tends to affect people with average to high levels of intelligence.
All the programs have waiting lists, she said.

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