INDEPENDENT LIFE SKILLS TRAINING– 14 years ago a number of our long-time camper families requested that Camp Northwood expand its programming in order to create a bridge program that would provide transitional preparation for young adults approaching the end of their secondary school experience. There is, perhaps, no time in the life of a neurotypical young adult fraught with more anxiety. For the families of young adults with developmental delays, this transitional time can bring an overwhelming sense uncertainty and despair. The reality of the future is front and center and unless proactive steps are taken to develop the highest attainable level of independence, these students can drift for years awaiting placements and programs that may or may not meet their individual needs.
The Northwood Center (NWC) program was created to prepare learning challenged, socially immature and high functioning autistic spectrum students, ranging in age from 16-21, for life beyond secondary school. There are a variety of post-secondary options available to these students such as college programs focused on academics and/or vocational training as well as post-secondary transitional life skills training programs. In some cases families may look for a direct placement in a residential group home for their young adults. In each case, leaving home is a significant aspect of the “Next Step” and a transition that can be quite a challenge. Preparation for this transition is essential and is most effectively done away from home. For two to three summers leading up to this transition, NWC students practice living away from home; applying the independent living skills that they will be expected to perform throughout the rest of their lives. Specific NWC curriculum units addressing the following skills are included, but not limited to:
• Food & Nutrition
• Kitchen Safety
• Care of Clothing
• Apartment Safety & Maintenance
• Money Skills & Budgeting
• Health & Fitness
• Personal Hygiene
• Social Safety & Self-Advocacy Skills
• Planning for Social/Recreational Events
The NWC’s program involves on-site instruction, field trips out into the community to establish relevance and then application on a day to day basis as needed in order to help our students refine and internalize their life skills.
The skills required to function independently away from home go far beyond the aforementioned isolated tasks that many students can develop functionality in a relatively short period of time. The true test of independence is whether students can successfully apply these skills in a social community in which they are required to interact with others on a regular basis. Social anxiety is a paralyzing condition that often is the greatest indicator of future independence. Unless this anxiety is addressed and reduced, it can have a significant impact on a student’s future life. The socially therapeutic environment of the NWC creates opportunities for students to refine their abilities to function successfully within a social environment. Camp Northwood’s formalized social skills training program is integrated into the NWC’s curriculum and the NWC students take part in the social/ recreational opportunities available to the entire Northwood community. Northwood’s supportive setting involves what we call a constant “Social Dialogue”. Students receive continual feedback from our staff; helping to identify successful social strategies as well as redirect and explore alternative social decisions when necessary. It is in this social environment that students can explore and refine their social skills and at the same time reduce levels of social anxiety. Our staff understands that every skill we teach needs to be framed in a social context- since without a strong social foundation, a student’s full potential cannot be achieved.
Too young to leave home, but facing the eventuality of doing so. Our students need time to prepare for this “Next Step” and we have found that many post-secondary programs prefer applicants that have successfully begun to make the transition by attending The Northwood Center. For more information pertaining to our programming, please visit our website: http://www.nwood.com or call the Northwood office at 315-831-3621. We are currently interviewing applicants for the summer of 2015.