In 1976, Chapel Haven moved its growing population to 1040 Whalley Avenue, New Haven and continued to expand its mission of providing individualized services to people with developmental and social disabilities.
That mission took a huge leap in 2006, when the agency embarked on the creation of a 24-month residential transition program followed by lifelong supports designed specifically for adults 18+ with Asperger Syndrome and related social disabilities.
Building on Chapel Haven’s success of more than 40-plus years as a leader in the field of teaching and supporting individuals with learning challenges, Chapel Haven recognized that the needs of the Asperger adult are unique and require a highly specialized program to help adults gain competence and confidence in social communication while pursuing college, independent living, employment and a satisfying circle of adult friends.
Developed in conjunction with the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, Conn., Chapel Haven’s ASAT program was guided by an advisory board comprising some of the top Asperger’s experts in the country, including Fred R. Volkmar M.D., director of the Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine, and Ami Klin, Ph.D. director of the Autism Program also of the Child Study Center at Yale University. Dr. Ruth B. Eren, who chairs the special education department at Southern Connecticut State University, helped write the curriculum and is a key advisor, along with Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, who coined the term “social thinking” and developed the social thinking treatment approach for individuals with high-functioning autism, Asperger's and similar challenges.
The ASAT program is nationally unique in its focus on social communication. The SCC curriculum was designed by a team of experts and centers around a core component of Social Communicative Competencies (SCC). Living in an apartment with roommates, managing an academic schedule and transitioning into productive and meaningful work, all require that students compromise, solve problems, and advocate for their needs.
The second component of the curriculum which is blended into all instruction is self-determination. This is an individual’s awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, the ability to set achievable goals and make choices, to be assertive at appropriate times and to interact with others in a socially competent manner. These skills are taught by aiding the individual to identify his own emotions, needs, interests, and values as well as to develop an understanding of his strengths and limitations.
Students reside in apartments with private bedrooms and shared common space. They learn through a sequenced curriculum the day-to-day skills necessary for independent living, living with round-the-clock oversight of staff. Each day is bracketed by a morning meeting and evening recap. Beginning with morning preparation for each student’s individualized schedule, to menu planning, grocery shopping, budgeting and banking, meal preparation and apartment maintenance, our staff teach and coach, watching for any areas that may need extra support. An increasing focus on nutrition and fitness helps students learn to plan nutritious meals, adopt healthy eating habits and pursue exercise and fitness.
A fundamental goal of the ASAT program is to help our adults prepare for careers and college. Our approach is highly individualized. For some students, the college environment will offer the opportunity to sample classes and perhaps matriculate; for others, exposure to vocational opportunities may be a priority. Some adults come to Chapel Haven with some degree of college already completed. Our location in a college town supports many choices in the area of college, vocational and professional studies.
The program’s focus on teaching skills that can be practiced in real life settings is unique. There are very few programs that focus on the needs of individuals with social disabilities,” said Dr. Volkmar. “It is clear that lack of ‘real world’ or adaptive skills is a major obstacle for many individuals being able to successfully make it on their own. Chapel Haven has a strong developmental focus with realistic expectations to hone in on these needs.