UMaine Summer Program Helps High School Students on the Autism Spectrum Transition to College

For the past five summers, the University of Maine has partnered with the Maine Department of Labor’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to provide a multi-week learning experience called Step Up, to help prepare high school students on the autism spectrum to successfully transition to college.

This year’s six-week program offered students, who are also DVR clients, with three options to participate: a two-week in-person experience on the University of Maine Orono campus; a four-week off-campus virtual experience; or students could enroll in all six weeks. Students who chose the two week in-person experience resided in a dorm with meals provided in the dining commons.

For the Step Up students on campus, program staff provided college prep seminars to help them become acquainted and to plan for their successful transition to postsecondary education. These seminars addressed topics such as obtaining and using accommodations, managing one’s health care, study skills and scheduling, time management, self-advocacy, and self-determination.

The students were welcomed as guests of several on-campus programs. Their experiences included the following:

  • A physics demonstration with David Sturm from the Department of Physics and Astronomy;
  • A tour of the Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center with Drew Hooke;
  • An information session with Mary Beth Willett from Tutor Services: Office of Student Academic Success;
  •  An introduction to artificial intelligence and an opportunity to interact with a ChatGPT model with Dr. Yifeng Zhu (pictured above) and Jeremy Juybari from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and
  • A hands-on experience with interactive technology with Justin Brown from the Virtual Environments and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory (VEMI Lab).

Students also participated in a social skills “boot camp”, an evidence-based social skills training for teens or young adults with autism spectrum disorder. This year’s half-day boot camp provided opportunities for the students to practice their social skills independently or through role-play demonstrations utilizing the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) Social Skills Boot Camp.

During the second week of the on-campus experience, students completed a 1-credit UMaine college success course where they learned  and practiced key skills and strategies needed to be successful in college.

Other partners collaborating on the 2023 Step Up Program included the University of Maine’s Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies; College of Education and Human Development; Early College and Student Accessibility Services.

Photo courtesy of the University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies.