Epic Win: Help on the Journey to Adulthood

The transition to adulthood is difficult for most young people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The challenges associated with autism persist and can be heightened during this time. Without support, even those with ASD who are more able to live independently face challenges in getting and keeping employment, succeeding in college or university, making friends and having lasting relationships, and living independently.

One program, designed for young people with high functioning ASD is My Life as an Epic Win, which is supported by Evan’s Ride for Autism

Owen Hunter is, by anyone’s standards, doing okay. The 27 year-old works as an Education Assistant with the District School Board of Niagara and is married with a young daughter. But he really struggled coming into his own as a young man. Hunter has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning ASD.

Owen has been a peer facilitator with the Epic Win program since 2014 and has seen how others with high functioning ASD also struggle with the transition to adulthood.

Epic Win helps older teens and young adults with high functioning ASD learn how to plan their future, set long- and short-term goals, identify and solve problems, and stay in action on the goals they set. The course was developed and researched by Dr. Rebecca Ward of the Phoenix Centre for Learning and her graduate students in the Applied Disability Studies program at Brock University.  The program helps the young participants learn how to move ahead in the uncertain world of adulthood by discovering not only what they want out of life, but also that they have what it takes to fulfill their dreams, despite their ASD diagnosis.

When they begin the Epic Win program, the young participants are struggling with how to create their future. Owen sees many dealing with issues relating to their anxiety, their ability to communicate and their ability to express their feelings. Feelings are hard for people on the autism spectrum: it is hard to understand the feelings of others, but also hard to understand what they, themselves, are feeling. The program supports participants in understanding themselves and their autism, and in dealing with real world situations as they take action toward their goals. Owen noted that it takes “lots of personal digging”.

Much of the “digging” comes through the discussion and role-play of scenarios. These feature a wide variety of situations related to adult life and choices. The scenarios are often discussed in a group. Working in a group helps the young participants realize they are not alone and deepens the discussion as their thoughts and feelings feed off one other. The discussions and scenarios help the young participants explore and express their feelings, evaluate their choices and learn and practice active listening and communication skills.

“Being able to communicate these ideas with other people opens their eyes. If I can communicate, I can get so much information to help myself understand”, says Owen. “I see them become much more comfortable with themselves.”

Transitioning to adulthood can be a difficult for parents too. Parents, a vital part of their son or daughter’s support system, learn with their child and with other parents though weekly parent sessions, shared exercises and homework assignments. “Toward the end [of the Epic Win program], there is lots of positive reinforcement on both sides”, observes Owen. “I can see a lot of stress release from the parents and most vow to carry what they’ve learned forward.”

Owen notes there is little support for young adults on the autism spectrum and feels that the Epic Win program can help others avoid some of the struggles he faced. “I think [the Epic Win program] equips then to be ready, to be aware and to feel like they can be successful.”

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