Emory program gives young adults with autism taste of independence

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Walking on the Emory University quad in Atlanta, 20-year old Noah Markson of Atlanta and 23-year old

Chloe Cich of Dacula, Georgia, are getting a taste of college life.

"I think it's awesome," Cich says.  "Every time I wake up and I'm here, I have to pinch myself because I feel like I'm in some sort of a dream. I never thought the Emory Autism Center would do something like this."

Markson and Cich, who are both on the autism spectrum and live with their parents, are part of a group of 6 young adults who are getting a practice run at what it's like to live on their own.

"I feel like I get a lot more independence in terms of how I spend my time, what I eat, just generally what I do with a lot of my time," Noah Markson says.

They're learning to navigate everything from creating a job resume to getting along with a roommate.

"We were both perfect fits and we just clicked instantly," Chloe Cich says.  "And, it was like the stars aligned, everything felt into place and I am really, really thank you for my roommates."

Dr. Catherine Rice, a Professor of Psychiatry at the Emory School of Medicine and Director of the Emory Autism Center, says the program focuses on the transition to adulthood, that can be challenging for all of us.

"But, for someone with autism, they often need help and guidance in terms of what does that mean, how does that natural responsibility just happen, and what kind of things do you need to do as an adult that you don't need to do as a child," Dr. Rice says.

Markson agrees.

"I think the biggest point in the autistic individual's life is when they move on," he says. "Because your parents have such a big network of people to help you. So, when you kind of move out of the house, that network will crumble if you're not maintaining it.  So, this kind of helps to simulate moving out without the lease."

In their downtime, Markson and Cich choose what they want to do, even if they just want to play videogames.

"But everybody is in pretty frequent touch and there are a lot of check-ins," Dr. Rice says. "So it's not a 100 percent like college, go in and drop them off, and they're gone.  There is a lot of support going on."

Chloe Cich loves being on her own.

"I like being able to do things on my own, and I like to see what I can do, and what I might need help on," she says.  "And, (I can see) what I need to do to make things accessible for me.  So, I really, really do like it.   I feel like I'm getting a great sense of independence, and I really do like that."

The Emory Autism Center hopes to make the campus-based program a permanent one. It's expensive, about $5,000 a person for the 3-week social immersion program. Dr. Rice says they offer limited scholarships and are looking at ways to bring down the cost.