ASAT graduation a testament to independence
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ASAT graduation a testament to independence

The following is a special needs program update from Chapel Haven. You may also click here to read the original article on the program’s website.

Rubin Levinson, shown here with his father, gave an eloquent speech about the independence he has gained at Chapel Haven.

Rubin Levinson said at one time he spent so much time in front of a computer that his mom would say when Rubin went away to college, he was going to find, “a skeleton with a baseball hat.”

But the skeleton prediction is off the table since the Levinsons found Chapel Haven’s Asperger’s Syndrome Adult Transition Program.

Speaking at the ASAT graduation June 14, Rubin told fellow graduates and their families that Chapel Haven has given him a solid foundation to build upon in life. He can now socialize and perform practical chores for independent living.

“This is the end of my foundation. Now, I’m getting ready to build the pretty stuff,” he said.

Eight graduated this year from ASAT and among the performances were a song in Japanese, a reading of a creative writing piece and a song.

ASAT Program Supervisor Jessica W. Gale told students to believe in themselves, never give up and continue learning. She also reminded them they don’t have to be perfect, “Just try your best.”

Ginny Hodge, VP of Autism Spectrum Programs at Chapel Haven, said along with developing independent living skills and succeeding in the college and employment arenas, “you have developed friends who will probably be lifelong.”

Chapel Haven President Michael Storz said the graduation was special, not just because of the people, but because graduates planned it all themselves.

Jennica Harris talks about her journey from Santa Barbara, CA to a new, adult life in New Haven.

Graduate Jennica Harris performed Ella Fitzgerald’s, “Detour Ahead,” and said the song was appropriate because life was full of detours, “Then I saw the light of ASAT and there are no detours.”

Jennica, who has an accounting degree, came to Chapel Haven to master the social skills he needed to succeed in interviews and with independence.

Jennica’s parents, from Santa Barbara, California, said their daughter is transformed and has never been happier.

“I would say Jennica seems more comfortable in her skin than ever before,” said Jennica’s brother, Jory, who came from Boston for the big day.

Jennica, who just moved into an apartment in Westville, said she now has many friends and is excited about going on job interviews. Her family said Jennica is confident, self-sufficient and a self-advocate.

Josh Liebeskind, a graduate who works on Chapel Haven's IT staff, played the violin during the ceremony.

The ASAT program begins as an individualized residential program that targets social competencies along with independent living and supports for college and employment. The program was designed with the help of experts across the country, including the Yale Child Study Center.

Michael Mayes, a young man on the autism spectrum who graduated from Mitchell College in 2013, gave the keynote address, encouraging students to never give up.

Mayes said he didn’t speak a sentence until age 7, but he is now a motivational speaker because he wants to give parents hope, and encourage professionals to have high expectations for their students.

“In high school, I got bullied a lot and I had lots of trust issues,” he said. He recalled being “petrified” his first time away from home, at a football camp. But eventually he went to college and developed a network of friends and a sense of confidence.

“I proved a lot of people wrong when I graduated college, people who said you will never succeed at college because you have a learning disability,” he said.

Mayes told graduates to take risks, thank their families, be proud and that graduation was just the beginning of their lives. Then he turned to Saturday’s graduates, “You people in the front row prove people wrong every single day.”