Emerging Leaders: Program Outcomes
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Emerging Leaders: Program Outcomes

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

2014 Emerging Leaders


For many teens or young adults with high-functioning Autism, Asperger’s, PDD, NVLD and similar difficulties with Executive Functioning (EF), summer is the time on the calendar when even less is happening in their lives than during the school year.

Frequently, little thought is given towards intentional experiences that would help them expand their life horizons beyond what is familiar, safe and comfortable. Too often, the “default option” reveals a greater reliance on social media, gaming and social isolation is the norm.

This apparent lack of engagement and personal risk-taking is understandable from the teen/young adult with EF deficits perspective whose daily school or life experiences consist of dealing with an academic/sensory/social environment that triggers stress, confusion and ongoing self-management struggles.

While taking a break from these concerns and pressures is appropriate for some individuals with EF issues, the majority of young people (and their parents) yearn for social inclusion, meaning and purpose in their lives… they just don’t know how to get there.


Most of the literature regarding Spectrum disorders and EF issues for this age-group speaks about the difficulties they tend to have in handling change or taking risks outside their immediate comfort zones.

It is common knowledge there can be significant problems for them (or others working with them) in recognizing other people’s needs and feelings, working collaboratively, or shifting/handling a variety of responsibilities. It is a primary reason that the general public believes that teens and young adults with EF lack or will not be able to develop the necessary risk-taking coping strategies or building skills in social areas that are not “black or white.”

Any personal fears of change and uncertainty of how the summer would work out, did not dissuade the 11 emerging leaders with Asperger’s, PDD, NVLD and ADHD. In fact, they clearly understood and accepted the risks of making a choice to live away from home for the summer with a complete group of strangers.

They met each other, their two academy staff and one LDI student intern for the first time on June 15, 2014 for an orientation prior to departure to Northern Arizona University, where they lived in the suites, a student residence on the flagstaff campus.

Summer Academy participants represented a diverse blend of leadership talents and experiences. Residents of Arizona, Salt River-Pima-Maricopa community, California, Idaho, Missouri, Nigeria and Canada were represented.  Our youngest leader was 16, and the oldest was 28. Several leaders were heading into their senior year in high school, some had just graduated from high school, and others had already been in college with some degree of academic success, but not yet “fitting in” with their other same-age peers.

On the staffing side, a key LDI manager and an out-of-state high school special education teacher with 20 years experience in school-to-work transition co-facilitated the academy.  In support, a 2nd year LDI student needing an internship to complete a Developmental Disabilities Specialist certification from Glendale Community College was hired as a paid intern.


Through a facilitated process of creating a mission-based team, the 2014 cohort chose as their primary goals to become better at taking responsibility for themselves, get out of their comfort zones, work through differences in a civil manner with others, and create their own functioning and fun peer community capable of working together in common cause and on team-based projects.

The validity of the process, as well as the commitment to come together as a team and community was immediately challenged in the first week.

Some comments were made from one student to another, and both parties did not accurately process what was said/not said. They instinctively reverted as individuals to methods they use reactively to protect themselves.

By virtue of using the team mission and revisiting the purpose of the Leadership Academy, all parties were able to come together and resolved their differences. This first week experience helped them go from being individuals, to learning how to accept themselves, care about others enough to listen and not just react, and take social, emotional and physical risks they could not have dreamed themselves to have attempted.

Of the core components that comprised Academy outcomes, the following are illustrative of what can happen when people meet as strangers to each other, and become committed to change through collaboration and building community:

  • •100% Academy persistence
  • •100% pass rate on college-credit bearing leadership course
  • •73% pass rate for a Group Facilitation Certification from the National Center for Student Leadership
  • •99% on time performance: 2 total absences for entire 5 weeks
  • •100% of assigned projects, portfolio activities and community obligations completed
  • •Student-written blogs publishing weekly updates received the highest readership ever on the LDI Facebook page
  • •Lifelong friendships and continued relationships were forged through the shared experience of building an international community

The Emerging Leaders Summer Academy expresses gratitude and appreciation for scholarship funding through a private party and from the Life Development Institute Education Fund School Tuition Organization to make possible the participation of Emerging Leaders who would otherwise not been able to attend. Numerous referral sources are also to be commended for sharing the risks in considering placement, and now also share in the rewards of a fabulous outcome.

We are also grateful to The Suites staff at Northern Arizona University for their outstanding service and facilities and Phoenix Community College for the creativity in accepting our notion regarding Leadership and approving the scheduling of a credit-bearing course.

Finally, we are forever changed by the legacy created by the Leadership demonstrated by the young adults and program staff who started, persisted and completed the 2014 Emerging Leaders Summer Academy. Thank you for showing yourselves and the world, that committed communities can beat any diagnostic or social label and become much more than they started out to be. Your actions exemplify the best of cooperation, compassion and community!

2014 Emerging Leaders
Mateo - Thoughtful Thursday
James - Thoughtful Thursday
Fletcher - Thoughtful Thursday
Yoga Pose at Awards Ceremony
James - Certificate of Completion
Treven - Certificate of Completion
Roni - Certificate of Completion
Ade and Virginia - Thoughtful Thursday
Mateo - Certificate of Appreciation
Fletcher - Certificate of Completion
Congratulations Fletcher!
Riley - Certificate of Completion
Zach - Certificate of Completion
Emerging Leaders at Farewell Dinner
Durham - Certificate of Completion
Jordan - Certificate of Completion
Nat - Certificate of Completion
Ade - Certificate of Completion

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