Aaron Roberson’s sister used to make his lunch every day, but these days, he is learning to make it himself. He loves to make personal pizzas and sometimes chicken nuggets. He shops for all of the ingredients with his Autism Support Professional, Joyce, and then returns to Creative Living, the Raleigh day program he attends, to make it.
Aaron is involved in every aspect of planning his lunch for the week, from making a shopping list to spreading the sauce! Aaron takes great pride in the independence he is gaining through his time at the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Creative Living.
“We weren’t sure what was next for Aaron after he graduated from high school, but I knew that whatever it was had to be structured and a thriving environment where Aaron could make new friends as well as continue to grow as an adult,” said his mother, Cherlona Watson.
The staff of Creative Living respects each adult they serve and works with them on goals that are important to them, said Katherine Gardocki-Page, Senior Program Director of Creative Living. This respect builds trust, which then enables participants to feel comfortable trying new ways of doing things and building skills. “They all have strengths and needs,” Katherine said. “Goals can be worked on during any activity.”
Many of the participants’ goals are related to communication, social interaction, and social expression. This might mean working on email, Facebook, and phoning, all of which are real-life tasks, Katherine said. Many of these skills are also essential for employment. Participants also work on money management, writing checks, budgeting, and online banking. Or they might be working on diet and exercise goals; going to a gym or a restaurant requires many skills at once.
“Creative Living has the space to do a dry run and then do a real-life experience,” Katherine said.
The Creative Living program space includes a large lobby with seating, a kitchen, a large café, an exercise room, and various spaces for artistic expression. “In the beginning of the day, it is like a social gathering in the café,” said Rachel McCarty, Program Coordinator. “That area creates such a sense of community for our participants.”
Clients attend Creative Living for about 30-35 hours per week, participating in activities there as well as in the community. Each participant is paired with one autism support professional. The staff’s expertise in autism enables them to deal with challenges that arise even as they provide meaningful experiences for each participant, Katherine said.
Tailored to each individual
Amy O’Connor said Creative Living’s emphasis on tailoring for each individual has been a benefit to her son Colin, who has been attending for a few months. “I love that the program is flexible enough to accommodate Colin’s need to be out and about and that the staff is able to work on his goals in the community he is living in. This real-world application allows Colin to get immediate feedback for what works and what doesn’t work in a natural context,” Amy said. “At Creative Living, Colin has the opportunity to improve his daily living and practical life skills while still getting to socialize and participate in the community.”
Colin enjoys his schedule of music class, swimming, volunteering, and more, Rachel said. “He is extremely active. His days are full.”
This summer, Colin was able to volunteer at a beloved camp with the support of Katie Perry, his Autism Support Professional. Creative Living participants volunteer at many local programs year-round, including Meals on Wheels, Thrift to Gift, churches, and Bridge to Sports. Their activities are intentional, supporting them as they work on goals that lead to more independence and maybe even employment.
Creative Living also has partnerships with the art community that enable participants to learn more and share their artwork with the larger community. Each month, they sell ceramics and other artwork in downtown Raleigh during the First Friday event.
“Colin is not the only one receiving a benefit from Creative Living – our entire family has been blessed by this program,” Amy said. “Having a program that can be custom-designed for each participant takes the load off of the rest of the family. Knowing that Colin is safe, actively engaged in learning, participating in social activities, and having fun, makes Creative Living days the best part of the week.”Tags: ASNC, autism, autism behavior, autism communication, autism nc, autism north carolina, autism resources, autism social skills, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, autism support, Developmental disability, direct support professional