The transition between adolescence and adulthood is hard, but it can be really hard for people who experience Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s also a stressful time for parents.
Sherry Sandreth knows this from personal experience.
Her youngest son, now in his mid-twenties, is one of three individuals with ASD currently living in the SLLEA pilot home in Springfield, Oregon.
SLLEA stands for Smart Living Learning and Earning with Autism and its Sandreth’s innovative and practical solution to a problem already hitting America in epic proportions. Approximately 48,000 high school students with ASD are graduating from high school each year and that number is growing.
SLLEA is a non-profit focused on technology, employment, academic, and social communication skills training. Independent living, day-to-day functioning, and living with other people are also key components of residency in the SLLEA house.
Located in Springfield, OR, the pilot house is a one-story craftsman home within walking distance of public transportation and grocery stores. As is typical in shared housing situations for young people, each occupant has his own bedroom, but the group shares common spaces including the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.
Part of Sandreth’s vision is to provide tenants with state-of-the-art technology to help with the kinds of everyday life management challenges common to people with autism. This includes things like following a schedule, remembering appointments, managing goals, and sharing in household tasks.
Over the past year, Cognitopia has worked closely with SLLEA as we developed some innovative web apps that help individuals with ASD, including Goal Guide for goal management and ScanDo for video instruction and task support.
Both apps have been installed on tablets that hang in key places in the SLLEA house, like near the kitchen stove and next to the front door. Need to remember how to make spaghetti sauce? ScanDo has a preloaded video. Is it your turn to take out the garbage? Check the Goal Guide team chores task list.
I visited the SLLEA house last week and found all three occupants home and willing to answer a few questions about their experience to date. When I pointed out they are beta testers for both Cognitopia and SLLEA, they were quick to claim rights to the name Team Alpha.
(Respecting the privacy of the group, answers have been provided without names.)
How is SLLEA helping you live independently?
There are numbers of things we have to do here as roommates and as individuals like paying rent and making sure that when we buy thing as a group people are being paid back. SLLEA helps us to keep track of it.
If you didn’t have SLLEA, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
I would most likely be out of my parent’s house, but I really don’t know where. I probably would have relied on them for help with a down payment. But, I would not want to be alone, because when I’m alone, I don’t get stuff done. Just having other people in the house helps me facilitate that.
What have you learned now that you might tell other SLLEA houses to do the same or differently?
Definitely scheduling regular meetings around some sort of event. For example, we make dinner every Wednesday and Sherry comes over to check in. But make sure the things you talk about are more concrete. For instance, ‘What do we have to do to prepare for next week?’ or ‘How many days until rent is due?’ or ‘Are you looking for jobs and do you have a plan for that?’ We’re in a pretty good spot at this point, but it would have been nicer if we had started off with those kinds of goals from the beginning.
So you’re kind of like the SLLEA “pioneers,” I guess. What kinds of things have you had to figure out on your own?
Well, we already had two mice and we caught them both in the same spot. Also, we had a water leak a couple of months ago and had to sponge it up and figure how to prevent it from happening again.
Are you getting along as roommates? Do you still like each other?
Do you think you will be living here for a while?
I like to think of this transitionary, but I also want to help out with the SLLEA program and help facilitate the other houses that start coming online.
What do you want to ask me?
They ask: What does this project mean to you? Are you trying to display SLLEA?
I respond: For me, it’s about telling people about this program, what works, and why it’s important to have houses in other places.
They ask: Is it promotion?
I respond: I think its informative promotion, but I don’t want to feel you are on display. I want to say, ‘Here’s a cool program, but I want to know how you guys think this would be successful for other people.’ You’re solving an important problem, and it might help other people who have the same problem if they know more about what you’re doing here at SLLEA.
For more information, visit the SLLEA website and watch this informative and powerful video:
Julie Henning has been with Cognitopia since 2015. In that time, she has been involved in customer support, training, marketing, documentation, social media, and data collection. Some of her favorite projects have been mentoring our videographer intern, Nate, and weekly classroom testing and curriculum development for the many students in the 4J Connections Transition program. She works closely with Eugene-based SLLEA (Smart Living, Learning & Earning with Autism) to integrate Cognitopia’s self-management tools into the organization and structure design input and support platform implementation. Professionally, Julie has over twenty years’ experience working in engineering, technology, software development, and journalism; a path made possible with two degrees in Technical Communication: a BS from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and a MS from Colorado State University. A single mom of three high schoolers (grades 9, 10, and 11), Julie has introduced Cognitopia to terms such as “sick” and “yeet,” while overseeing the office coffee consumption. In her free time, she enjoys playing recreational soccer, improv comedy, and traveling.