Chapel Haven’s Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition Program Grooms Young People for Employment

When the staff at Chapel Haven needs an IT guy to troubleshoot a computer problem, they don’t have far to go. “If there’s an emergency, I’m just up the street,” said Josh Liebeskind, a 2010 graduate of Chapel Haven’s Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition (ASAT) program and now a part-time employee at Chapel Haven who sets up staff accounts, new computers and solves any IT-related problems. “If I fix something quickly they’re amazed. I don’t think it’s that hard,” Josh said.

Josh is among the successful graduates of ASAT who are living independently and succeeding in the workplace. Six years into the program, the ASAT program’s effectiveness is evident in the graduates who choose to stay on, move into the New Haven community, continue on with college studies and work, and enjoy an adult community of friends and peers.

Zach Delman, another program graduate, has found a niche these last four years working as a surveyist at the renowned Quinnipiac Polling Institute in Hamden. Zach, who brings strong reading skills and good manners to the job, is the guy who calls to ask Connecticut residents questions on a variety of topics that, in recent months, have been all about the U.S. Senate and presidential races.

“It keeps me busy. It gives me something to do,” he said, adding, that he enjoys the staff and his co-workers. The job also motivates Zach to stay on top of current issues. “I’m really catching up on politics,” he said of the polling season. 

The focus of the ASAT program is to assist adults in developing independent social competency, adaptive skills, life skills and ultimately, career experiences.Founded with assistance from experts including Drs. Ami Klin and Fred Volkmar at the Yale Child Study Center, the program has a unique core curriculum focused on the teaching of social communicative competencies. Adults who know how to initiate, plan, listen and take the perspective of other individuals are able to be successful in work, college and in developing friendships. The students live in two multi-family houses on the Chapel Haven campus for 24 months during the residential part of the program, and they also gain instruction in life skills such as cooking, laundry and apartment maintenance while exploring college and careers.

Josh, 23, said his mom researched many programs when he graduated from Cheshire High School in 2008, and when it came to Chapel Haven, she “could tell right away, this is a good fit.” Josh said his mom’s worry was that other programs didn’t aim high enough.

Josh, who describes himself as “self-taught, but pretty good for self-taught,” in the computer field, gives credit to the Chapel Haven staff for his overall success. “The staff is helpful…I’d get in bad moods and shut out all suggestions, but they still kept trying to help me as much as they could,” Josh said. What was their secret to getting Josh to budge? “Blunt force repetition,” Josh says without hesitation.

Today, Josh is living independent of his parents in New Haven, and has learned to do housecleaning, banking, pay bills, and even solve any roommate disputes. “I’ve gotten a lot more confident. My outlook has been a lot more positive,” he said.

Zach, 28, came to Chapel Haven from Alexandria, VA, and said it took him time to get used to being away from home. But once he got past that, “I learned about socializing and independent living,” Zach said. In addition to work, Zach takes classes at Gateway Community College and as a historically good student, says of college, “It’s a little frustrating – harder than I thought, but I’m getting there.” In his leisure time, Zach likes to read mystery novels and watch movies.

Josh, a violinist since fifth-grade, (“never the guy in the first chair in the orchestra,” he admits) said he plays the fiddle for enjoyment, fancying folk music over classical, Josh recently built his own desktop computer to make it easier to play on-line role playing games, his favorite being the popular World of Warcraft. While he enjoys his friends and his computer, he doesn’t put them together on Facebook like many of his peers do.

“I can’t stand Facebook,” because it’s cumbersome getting to a friend’s page, he said. “It’s like, ‘We’re going to nag you to do something just to see someone’s page.” Let’s face it: there are some things even a determined staff at Chapel Haven can’t change.

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