Omaha pilot program helps young adults with autism learn to live alone

Autism Action Partnership’s program aims to offer a bit of guidance to people in their 20s who are on the spectrum.
Leaving the nest is a big leap for both families and their children.
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Jensen Curtiss is 25 years old and living with autism. He’s never lived alone, but this month he’s going to start.

The Autism Action Partnership’s pilot program begins next week. The goal is for people on the autism spectrum to spend two years in a dorm learning life skills so that, one day, they can live independently.

“This is the first time that they’ve ever really been able to envision a life where their child can live on their own,” said Emily Sutton, AAP program director.

Jensen’s mom is looking forward to watching her son make this transition.

“The biggest emotion is the fear of them not succeeding,” she said. “But Jensen has matured so much, and I really believe he will have a great experience. And he’s got safety nets all around him.”

The program uses an evidence-based curriculum with 32 different courses. It’s called Learning for Independence.

“I’m excited to learn about all the stuff they didn’t teach you in high school,” Jensen said. “They never taught you how to do your taxes. They never taught you how to live on your own. They never taught you how to cook, at least they didn’t teach me how to cook. And the cooking nutritious is really going to be really interesting to see how it works out.”

The nonprofit’s president said the program aims to help people in their 20s who just need guidance on how to live alone.

“It’s not intellect. It’s not the idea of knowledge. It’s the idea of being able to apply skills. It’s kind of like you have a toolbox, but which tool do I use at which time,” AAP president Justin Dougherty said.

The experience is as much about skills as it is about navigating new friendships and social situations.

At the St. John Paul II Newman Center, they’ll be living suites with other program participants and alongside other college-aged students.

“We will access to AAP [Autism Action Partnership] staff 24 hours a day if there is some sort of issue that does come up,” said Susan Gnann, the center’s director for advancement.

“I’m a relatively confident guy, and I don’t get very nervous very often. But the moving out part is a little nerve-wracking. But I’m sure I can get past that,” Jensen said.

How to participate

Right now, the pilot program is funded entirely by the families, with four adults enrolled — and four spots still open. After what they hope is a successful launch, the Autism Action Partnership will seek other funding to open the program up to more people.

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