A Mother’s Dream Became a Reality
In 1990, when her son with learning disabilities was in high school, Beverly Hatlen’s son begged her to let him go to a school “where everyone will be like me.” Those words tugged at her heart strings and so, with her husband, Roe, she decided to fulfill their son’s dream and founded Minnesota Life College (MLC).
As parents, Beverly and Roe envisioned young adults with learning disabilities having the same opportunities that parents take for granted with their other children: to be part of a college-like community; to have several years to mature and discover their abilities and strengths; to participate in meaningful job exploration; to develop physical and emotional wellness within a compassionate and respectful environment; and to have fun and make lifelong friends.
After their research identified that there was nothing like their vision available in the Midwest, Beverly developed her own program and opened the doors of MLC in the urban community of Richfield, Minn. The postsecondary program serves young adults ages 18-26 with Asperger Syndrome, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The approach is “Real Skills for Real Life,” and staff members teach specific skill-building activities in the environment where the students will be using necessary life skills.
The program has grown over the past 13 years and now consists of an undergraduate program, a graduate living community, a summer high school program and a professional speaker series for the community.
The three-year undergraduate program challenges the personal growth of each student. Students participate in MLC’s skills curriculum in vocational readiness and employment, independent living, and social and physical wellness.
The ultimate goals for all students are to graduate with a competitive wage job, be able to live independently in their own housing and have friends in the community. Director of Admissions and Marketing, Amy Steele Gudmestad, says, “There is nothing better than seeing young adults with a learning disability who are feeling successful and have a life of their own, possibly for the first time in their life.”
To reach that goal, a major focus is on learning to get and keep a job. This is accomplished by providing students with the skills necessary to complete the job search process (obtaining employment), and an understanding and demonstration of job-keeping skills and behaviors (maintaining employment). Students also spend time at volunteer worksites to develop these “real-life” work skills.
Independent living skills are taught in the classroom and apartments as a part of everyday life at MLC. Additionally, instruction is provided wherever students would use the skill—at the grocery store, on the bus or at the bank.
Social and wellness skills are developed by connecting students to the greater community. It is important that they understand how to access community resources and how to succeed socially in the changing world. Classroom instruction addresses community participation, fitness and wellness, and social skills, including social interactions, relationships, behaviors and society’s unwritten social rules. The principles are then applied in the community itself in required and non-structured social activities. The student’s connection to the community significantly drives MLC’s partnerships in the Twin Cities.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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