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Ability Beyond Envisions Bright Future for Viral Video Superstar with Autism

Jacks Higgins' "silent high school graduation" became an international example of kindness and compassion. The young man with Autism was able to walk across the stage of at his Carmel NY High School graduation ceremony thanks to his classmates' complete silence.

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y., July 29, 2019 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ -- When Jack Higgins accepted his Carmel High School diploma on June 20 at Western Connecticut State University, he had no idea the video showing his completely silent classmates would become a world-wide sensation. School Principal Lou Riolo had asked the crowd to refrain from clapping or cheering to respect Jack's sensory processing differences. The 21-year-old with Autism cannot tolerate loud noises but was able to proudly walk across the stage escorted by his brothers Patrick and Bryan thanks to everyone's quiet support. Now Jack is taking the next steps toward his future through the unique Day Program at Ability Beyond.

Ability Beyond's Day Program in Chappaqua helps individuals with developmental disabilities, including those with traumatic brain injury and Autism discover their strengths and learn the skills necessary to obtain meaningful employment. The comprehensive curriculum offers individualized instruction in social dynamics, research and technology skills, real world academics, life skills, and career training.

"Ability Beyond has over fifteen work readiness sites that are open to individuals in our Day Program," explained Jane Davis, President & CEO of Ability Beyond. "Prior to being placed in an internship, we administer a work readiness assessment to determine the best placements for the individuals we serve."

Jack started attending the Day Program on July 8. His typical day begins by being picked up at home by his Ability Beyond Staff. He is driven to the Chappaqua location where he meets with the other members of his group and prepares for the day. The first activity is usually educational based, for example Money Management skills or simple math, and then they go on an outing which is geared towards working on social skills. There is also a focus on work readiness skills, so Jack will also be participating in Internship Programs in the fall.

The Ability Beyond Day Program provides experiences and activities that are stimulating and encourage good physical and cognitive health for each participant. Recreational and volunteer activities change depending on the season and include arts and crafts, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) work group, tennis lessons, water parks, music classes and Ability Gardening Club, Miracle League Baseball and bowling. All activities are outcome based and focus on assisting individual gains and/or retain a specific skill set. Participants also volunteer regularly at North Westchester Hospital and The Food Patch.

Additional programs offered in Chappaqua include:

  • NY Without Walls Day Program (WOW) promotes independence, self-confidence and self-esteem by engaging in different community-based activities. The program focuses on a variety of work experiences at hospitals, nursing homes, retailers, entertainment complexes and others. Program includes opportunities for social, recreational and physical activities and community services. Participants have the opportunity to "graduate" to Ability Beyond's Supported Employment Program.
  • NY Career Development assists individuals in obtaining and maintaining competitive, independent employment in the community. Employment Specialists work with individuals to find the right job and ensure long-term success. Services include career exploration, career enhancement, job development, job placement, on-the-job training and support, and job coaching.
  • NY Community Habilitation meets the specialized needs of individuals who want to live in a community setting, or at home with their family, while maintaining an optimum level of independence. Services help individuals exercise meaningful choices and control in their daily lives, including facilitating community inclusion, integration, and relationship building. Goals may include building adaptive living skills and well as living skills, monitoring health, aging, safety, medications, medical issues, finances and recreation.
  • NY Youth Development Program prepares young adults to successfully begin a career in their chosen field. The program works to build critical and transferable employment and social skills onsite in an industry-specific setting, while exploring career options. Participant's days are split between classroom training to develop prevocational skills and out in the community participating in volunteer work and preparatory training. Classroom training includes cooking, money management, interpersonal skill development, word comprehension and self-advocacy.

"Jack is unique because even though he is nonverbal he has the ability to participate in whatever conversation is going on around him," said Davis. "He initiates conversations by going up to staff and smiles to start a conversation with his communication device. He loves being engaged!"

Unfortunately, Jack's prospects after graduation are an exception, as a large majority of individuals on the Autism spectrum do not have access to job training programs. According to a report from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, over half of them never received vocational or life skills coaching to obtain a job. During high school, more than 50% of youth received speech-language therapy, personal assistant services, social work, case management, transportation and occupational therapy. However, less than one-third received these same services during their early 20's.

"Many reports about Autism refer to this as the 'services cliff'," explains Davis. "Under Federal law known as the IDEA, children receive a full complement of education and support services until the 12th grade, then those who do not transition into either work, supported employment, or post-secondary education have difficulty finding and accessing those same services. Nothing is guaranteed to individuals or families after 21."

Jack's mother, Barbara Higgins, hopes that the number of social programs will increase and help more children like her son.

"I am extremely grateful that Jack has the amazing opportunity to participate in Ability Beyond's programs," said Higgins. "Our hope for Jack is to develop vocation skills so that eventually he will become employed. We envision a bright future for him!"

Click here to view the inspiring video: Graduation Crowd Silent for Student With Autism.

Ability Beyond is a 501{c} (3) organization headquartered in Chappaqua, NY and Bethel, CT. It provides a wide range of services for over 3,000 people with a disability that inhibits their activities of daily living -- including numerous residential alternatives, employment training, career counseling, job placement services, cognitive and life skills instruction, clinical and therapeutic support, and volunteer and recreational activities. Today, its services extend throughout Connecticut and New York's lower Hudson Valley. For more information about Ability Beyond go to http://www.abilitybeyond.org.