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Innovative transition program helps young adults succeed beyond high school

Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School program marks four years of success

Glendale Heights – Laura Schuster once suffered from anxiety so crippling she had no motivation to attend classes. Schuster was unsure of herself as a person; she had no life goals.

 

However, thanks to the transition program at Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School, the first such accredited program in Illinois, Schuster is now enrolled at North Central College in Naperville, where she keeps busy playing on the school’s water polo club and making lunch dates with friends.

 

“I learned how to cope with anxiety, to slow down my thoughts and to not jump to conclusions,” the 19-year-old Downers Grove resident said. “I learned boundaries and when it’s appropriate to tell jokes. I learned to calm down. I can now smile.”

 

Here’s how the transition program works. Young adults age 17 to 21 who have an IEP (individualized education plan) can gain proficiency in key areas of daily living – including health and money management and career exploration – to help them study, work and live independently.

 

 

The program was developed five years ago by Mike Carter, assistant principal at Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School’s west campus, and Lisa Grigsby, the school’s director. Carter and Grigsby had noticed that their students did well under the school’s structured day program, but floundered when they entered the adult environment of work or college.

 

“Many times, our students left the program and dropped out of school or, if they did graduate, bounced around from job to job, unable to make it on their own,” Grigsby said.

 

The transition program, which includes a volunteer component to provide the students real-life work experience, has room for modification, depending if students are headed for a four-year college, enrolled in an online university or are merely seeking gainful employment, even if they can only handle working part time.

 

“For kids with high anxiety, this allows them to test the waters,” Grigsby said.

 

The school initiated the transition program in 2008 with four students. There are now 14. Carter anticipates another four students will participate this fall, proof that the community needs this program.

 

“Too often these kids who need help go unnoticed and without help, because no one sees the problem,” Carter said. “Anxiety and social disorders aren’t visible to the naked eye.”

 

Yet even for young adults like Paige Palucci of Lombard, access to services can be limited. When Paige was 10, her seizure disorder suddenly became status epilepticus. Paige recovered, but the incident left her with a childish personality, poor short term memory, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 

Paige was then sent to a school for the mentally disabled, but she was afraid of the other students. Her mother, Traci Palucci, successfully lobbied to transfer Paige to Adventist GlenOaks Therapeutic Day School, which she said has made all the difference for Paige.

 

“Through the transition program, Paige learned to balance a checkbook, make a doctor’s appointment, shop, do laundry and use public transportation,” Traci said. “These are the skills we take for granted, the ones not taught in school.”

 

Nevertheless, the transition program has also molded Paige into a well-rounded individual. She has volunteered at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital for the last two years and has worked at a grocery store the last five years. When she went camping with her family and no one knew how to use the charcoal grill, Paige calmly figured it out.

 

“This is very impressive for Paige,” Traci said. “She’s never going to be an accountant or, because of her epilepsy, learn to drive, but she’s independent and in charge of herself.”

 

Even when students have successfully completed the transition program, Carter said they will often “touch base” for extra support in times of higher stress. Schuster is one of them.

 

Yet, because of the additional training she has received, Schuster is learning to let go and find other ways of coping. For instance, she now relies less on her former teachers and more on Rusty, her English cocker spaniel therapy dog.

 

“He’s always giving me kisses, sitting by me and being there for me,” Schuster said. “If I need to cry, he’ll let me pet him until I feel better.”

 

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Adventist Midwest Health includes Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, Adventist GlenOaks Hospital, Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. To find a physician, visit www.keepingyouwell.com.

 

Media contact: Lisa Parro, senior public relations specialist, Adventist Midwest Health, Lisa.parro@ahss.org; 630-856-2354