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John D. can still recall the butterflies he felt 10 years ago when he and his parents started looking for a transition program for him after he graduated New Canaan High School.

While high school was good for the most part, John found it sometimes difficult to make friends, and couldn’t imagine living a life away from his parents.

“I was looking for a program that was good for people with autism and Asperger, like me. After going to a program or two, I found Chapel Haven,” John recalls during an interview for the Chapel Haven Changes Lives weekly series.

In fact, John was a member of the first inaugural class of adults accepted to the newly established Chapel Haven Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition (ASAT) Program. He enrolled in the residential program and spent two years in a supervised apartment setting on Chapel Haven’s campus, learning every aspect of what it takes to have an independent adult life. After completing the program, John has continued on in Community Outreach Services, living in his own apartment, with a la carte supports from Chapel Haven.

John recalls that being accepted to the program was a thrill. “It made me feel great, and it felt good to be somewhere close to home,” he said.

Chapel Haven’s accepting environment helped him feel more comfortable while teaching him how to clean his apartment, take public transportation, learn about social communication, and make new friends – things John was not sure would ever be possible.  Today, he lives in his own apartment with a cat named Bartley and he has a wonderful, independent life where he has learned “how to be on my own and how to thrive and be independent on my own. How to get used to what it’s like to be independent in the world.”

“We are so very proud of John’s accomplishments since joining the Chapel Haven family,” John’s Mom, Fran Dolan, said. “John has a full life and is happy.  That is what every parent wishes for their child.”

Fran recalled some of the goals – and fears – she and her husband had.

“When John started his two year program our hopes were little ones…hopeful John would get through the day without calling home 10 times.  Once accomplished we hoped he would connect with some other students and make a friend…just one would be wonderful,” Fran said. “That was checked off the list very quickly, John had made a couple of friends in a short period of time.  But could he live in an apartment…share an apartment …and be flexible? It took awhile but yes, John developed a wonderful relationship with his roommate that is ongoing today.  When John graduated the two year program the only place he wanted to be, and stay, forever, was in New Haven with his support system and friends.”

John speaks at his ASAT graduation ceremony.

John is especially good at setting and achieving goals.

For example, John’s latest goal is to enroll in college. He has just started taking English 101 at Gateway Community College in downtown New Haven.  John sees himself as a long-time community member and is appreciative of everything Chapel Haven has helped him and students like him achieve.

He also has a part-time job at Yale-New Haven Hospital delivering newspapers. He gets around independently using public transportation and Uber.

During his free time, John enjoys spending time with friends – everything from hanging out in each other’s apartments, to checking out superhero movies and going out to eat.  John has done an especially great job balancing fun and work by working with trainer Ryan McEachern for the last couple of years. All the hard work paid off with the loss of about 35 pounds!

When asked about advice for new students, John admitted that the first few months might be hard, but encourages new students to, “hang in there and stick to it!”  They don’t have to look any further than John’s own journey to understand his advice is indeed well worth taking.