Becoming independent with autism during adulthood

Children with a learning or neurological difference often fare well in the comforts of their homes with their parents watching over them. The big question is: What happens when they reach their 20s and 30s? A transitional program at The Monarch School and Institute for Neurological Differences in Houston offers them housing and a "life coach" to make sure they have everything they need.

FOX 26 News met with a group of young adults who develop life skills on the campus of The Monarch School.  They learn together. They prepare meals and eat together, on and off campus. They even get to make a major transition, away from their parents, into homes just down the street from their school. Three or four students live in each house.

33-year old Patricia got to take another big step after living in one of those homes. 

"I started in this house and now I'm at my own apartment," says Patricia with excitement. Her own place!  She returned to the home where she once lived and where they would take turns cooking once a week on their social night. FOX 26 met with them on the girls' designated week to cook. 

"It's amazing and to step back as a faculty member and let them have the meal and have fun by themselves -- that's the biggest reward for me!," says Jenny Ferguson, who serves on the Integrative Learning Practice Team at The Monarch School. "During the day we teach them how to practice those skills, relate socially, pick up on social cues, so to watch them be natural about it, is really rewarding." Ferguson even fills in and sleeps at the home on certain days.

At this stage in their lives, the student's favorite thing about The Monarch School is socializing with others.  They say they want it and need it.  They tell FOX 26 that they didn't really have friends before The Monarch School and often spent time alone. They are getting to work at different companies that have partnered with The Monarch School.  Several of them have been attending at The Monarch School since they were children, including Michael. 

"I've been going here since I graduated from elementary," Michael tells FOX 26. 

Kate has been here for 16 years, since she was 16 years old. Kate started off in an art class at The Monarch School and now her artwork hangs on walls all over the school. Some have sold for $10,000 at auction! Her friends at The Monarch School keep cheering her on. This is one tight-knit group.

"It's friendly and homey -- the girls really click together and sometimes feels like a sisterhood," says Ferguson. "Sometimes they refer to each other as sisters and that's neat."

"Some of the learners, when they first arrive, didn't know how to sweep or make their bed or do laundry, and now some are doing the first to grab the broom without prompting or tips to do it," says Keith Preston, also a Transition Services Residential Coordinator.

They do enjoy quiet time in their own rooms, but they get to enjoy fun activities like school soirees, festivals, professional sporting events, and movie nights. Patricia even participated in the Special Olympics and won first place in her event. 

Without The Monarch School? They say there would be no place for them and that they'd miss their friends and teammates. They have learned skills so they can function and take care of themselves.