A Mother’s Dream Became a Reality (page 3)
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.
Graduate Living Community
The graduate living community, (GLC), established in 2004, is offered to MLC graduates who reside in the Twin Cities and want to continue to receive career development services and participate in social activities among peers in a safe setting. While the graduates are successful and active in their independent lives, the GLC is able to offer them an accepting environment where they can develop and maintain friendships, travel and continue to grow in self-awareness, confidence and community involvement.
The experience of many MLC graduates is reflected in the thoughts of one graduate, who said, “I lived in the safety of my parents’ basement, never daring to venture out or even consider having friends and being able to hang out. And now look at me. I have my own apartment, friends in MLC and GLC, and a job with benefits.”
Summer High School Program
The summer high school program is designed to encourage high school students with learning disabilities to think beyond their high school graduation date, and actively participate in their future decisions and independence. This program provides students with a structured, safe setting in which to have fun and relate with their peers.
Three times each year, the John Lighty Lecture Series, coordinated by MLC, brings nationally recognized speakers to the Twin Cities to present information on key issues related to learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD and ASD. These lectures are free to the community, and provide current trends and data in the learning disabilities field to a wide range of professionals and community members.
Learning disabilities impair an individual’s executive functioning skills, such as planning, sequencing, flexibility of thinking, organization, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, and working memory. Over time, Beverly found that, with continuous practice, these skills can become habits, and these habits can help individuals with a learning disability live independently in the community. The MLC program provides daily opportunities to practice, fail and learn from mistakes in a safe and nurturing environment.
The belief at MLC is that everyone has the potential to be a contributing member of society. Life is a learning process, and people think and learn differently. MLC helps individuals with learning differences reach their potential with support and guidance. The families served are proud of the personal integrity and leadership qualities MLC graduates embody. One of the parents sums it up, “I’ve never seen our son so happy—and now we have a life, too.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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