Avnei Derech La’Haim


 

“Avnei Derech or Milestones for Life” was founded to change the way high functioning young adults on the Autism Spectrum (AS) integrate into society following high school completion. These young adults require an individualized, professional and holistic program in order to successfully transition from the period of developing adolescence to successful adulthood. There is no such program today in Israel.

 

The creators of Avnei Derech recognize that by investing intensive training and resources in these young adults at a critical age, for a limited period of time, results can change the trajectory of their lives from dependence and loneliness, to living full, independent Israeli children with Asperger’s Syndrome do not fit into a clearly defined educational framework. Some are educated in special education classes and others manage sufficiently well in mainstream classrooms.While social situations are generally difficult for these students, they often manage to maintain their grade level and complete their high school education.

 

The Israel Ministry of Education does not maintain specific statistics on this group of children and does not currently track their progress. Data is only collected on students in special education classrooms. Upon graduation, teens with Asperger’s Syndrome are ill equipped for moving on to the next stage of life. They are not compelled to participate in any form of National Service and are left without the specific obligations that face their peers. They are not provided with a training ground to garner skills and experience in life as they look toward their adult years.

 

Just as the late teen years are a time of soul searching and self-definition for all, they are a time of confusion and loss of direction for many youngsters with Asperger’s Syndrome as they are not capable of navigating through their experiences, emotions and impulses of their own accord. The high school curriculum does not effectively prepare young people on the Autism Spectrum (AS) for the myriad of opportunity and dilemmas they face when looking for their next steps in life. Typical Israeli youngsters with high social acumen identify their interests and desired path through their conscripted army service, work experience and University studies.

 

People diagnosed as being on the high functioning end of the Autism spectrum are generally of higher than average intelligence, yet they lack social cues that often isolate them from their peers. Most such high school graduates leave school without friends. While their contemporaries are being drafted into the army, they are not. They are exempted from conscription and lack a healthy means of transitioning into adulthood. Skills their contemporaries learn intuitively, young people with Asperger’s Syndrome have the intellectual capacity to learn through intensive behavioral therapy, practice and determination. Given the management and coping skills for survival in society at the right crossroads in their life, young people can develop a healthy, happy adult life. Without acquiring coping skills at a young and impressionable age, older adults with Asperger’s Syndrome often cannot find their place in society and can develop into angry, bitter individuals.

 

Avnei Derech was established to fill this important void in Israeli society with a rigorous and empowering training program. Israel has no comparable program to date. Government and medical services do not cater to this sector of society as a group, resulting in many if not most young adults falling through the ‘cracks’ of available services. Some youngsters are fortunate to learn life skills from their parents, individual therapists or through other programs. Others remain marginalized by society and live a life of dependency and loneliness.

 

Avnei Derech has set out to change the Israeli attitude by advocating for acceptance of people with Asperger’s syndrome into all sectors of society. The best chances of building a successful adult life for people with Asperger’s Syndrome is in great part determined in the five years immediately following high school graduation. The Avnei Derech approach empowers participants with more independence while transitioning out of a high school framework. It lays the groundwork for a personally integrated adult lifestyle in a healthy and encouraging environment.

 

Avnei Derech sets “milestones for life,” believing that every person has the right to choose his or her own life path and live as independently as possible. The Avnei Derech motto is “Nothing about us, without us.” Founded with the specific purpose of helping high functioning young adults on the autism spectrum to learn life skills at the critical age, Avnei Derech uses innovative and creative means to:

  • Empower young adults with Asperger’s syndrome to achieve more in their lives by developing a personal transition plan under professional guidance and supervision, focusing on the young people’s strengths, not their weaknesses.
  • Encourage participants to choose a life path that fits their personality, interests and
  • Require participants to learn about broadly accepted social norms and expectations such as personal responsibility and consequences for actions and behaviors.
  • Support individualism while simultaneously fostering sensitivity to other peoples’ needs and behaviors in a group setting and as members of a community.
  • Establish an environment of mutual respect and appreciation by working in a non-
    threatening group setting of like-minded people who feel comfortable and open with
  • Train individuals and groups in social skills which come less intuitively for participants than for their contemporaries.
  • Advocate for the successful transition from an energetic and hopeful child in a structured formal educational system, to an adult who must find his or her own direction, educational path, living arrangements, social milieu and career.
  • Provide each participant with a customized tool kit for coping with and managing an
  • Implement programs to ensure long term internalization of life skills and ongoing
  • Enlist partners and partnerships and foster government cooperation to ensure broad-
    based support and success in disseminating supportive programs to reach every young adult with Asperger’s Syndrome in Israel.
  • Educate people in the work place and in society as to the behavioral effects of Asperger’s Syndrome, to prevent discrimination and ill treatment and foster inclusion

Avnei Derech’s core purpose is to expose high school graduates with Asperger’s

Syndrome to life experiences in a supportive environment that serves as a training ground for adulthood. By incorporating a combination of challenges, encouragement and coping skills into the framework, participants become socially aware. Avnei

Derech stimulates their ability to problem solve and navigate day to day challenges.

They learn to work with others, in a group setting and take a test run on living outside their parent’s home by choice, without feeling abandoned or forced.

Involvement in an Avnei Derech program instils in participants the motivation to integrate in mainstream life activities in Israeli society such as voluntary National

Service, the military, higher educational opportunities, acquisition of employment and career building efforts. Each participant is exposed to and taught the skills required to live independently, such that they are well equipped to make responsible personal decisions such as residence choices and setting an occupational path for the long term. Avnei Derech seeks to empower each individual to set their personal goals or “Milestones” as a springboard rather than a crutch.

Local, national and international agencies are partners with Avnei Derech in order to provide practical solutions at a crucial time in the lifecycle of people with great hope and potential, who require an additional ‘bridge’ between school age activities and settling into adulthood. Everybody has the right to choose a direction and personal expression that lead to a productive life, self-fulfilment and finding his and her place in society. Avnei Derech aims to create an Israeli society that is wholly inclusive of citizens with Asperger’s Syndrome and views them as normative peers.

“Avnei Derech” imparts life skills in young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome at a crucial time in their lives. Through individual and group exercises and training, “Avnei Derech” gives every participant a personal tool kit to springboard into a meaningful adulthood of work, study and family life. Avnei Derech specializes in meeting the development needs of Asperger’s Syndrome teenagers by setting personal goals and building trust. This is accomplished by:

 

  • Creating a personalized, unique & dynamic transition plan for each participant.
  • Allowing for the maturing process to take place naturally in a monitored
  • Reaching out to the young adults at a critical life juncture.
  • Halting the process of using Asperger’s Syndrome as a crutch or a disability that prevents young adults from living a full life in general society.
  • Involvement in the daily life of participants.
    • Facilitating on-demand conflict resolution and problem solving in the daily life of participants.
  • Developing intimate support groups allowing for individual expression and comfortable growth and experimentation.
  • Allowing the participants the opportunity to transition into the preparatory college and then out into the community with ongoing support and encouragement.

 

The “Atuda” support program helps youngsters assess their next steps as they graduate high school and consider volunteering in the IDF, national service, finding How it works: A group is formed, creating a supportive community for every participant. In a comfortable, non – threatening environment, participants learn to be aware and considerate of others, learn about actions, reactions and consequences.  The group provides a “safe” way to practice understanding social cues and maneuvering in social circles. Additionally, it establishes the kernel of a social outlet and encourages a sense of trust and commonality with peers.

The “Atuda” group meets weekly. Topics for discussion are chosen by the program participants, including location and activities. A professional facilitator helps guide discussions and produces ideas and suggested solutions to issues. Participants create a strong bond with one another and often recognize a true friendship for the first time in their lives. Participants report “Here I can just be myself and don’t have to pretend like I do with other people.”

Facilitators follow up with each program participant throughout the week and offer guidance, a listening ear to help maintain motivation and self-assurance while they try their hand at skills and activities between sessions.

 

Program II “Mechina” or “Preparatory College”

The “Mechina” is a two-year residential program in northern Israel that has been approved and co-sponsored by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Welfare (MOLSA)

The Avnei Derech “Mechina” is located in the city of Kiryat Shemona in Israel’s Galilee region. Participants leave their parent’s home for the first time and live an experiential, independent life, inhabiting a small apartment on their own or with one other participant. A personal plan is developed for each participant, as he or she takes the lead in determining his or her personal path in life. It is not imposed upon them in any way. In this manner, each participant has opportunities to live his desired lifestyle in a somewhat protected environment as a way of “trying it on for size.” Slowly and methodically the participant’s social circles are developed and expanded, until he has established a healthy basis on which to build.

Existing Israeli programs for young adults on the AS spectrum provide a social environment and, in some cases, supported housing. They do not offer a continuum and a choice of services for young adults with ASD. Most look very much like institutions, albeit situated within the general community. Other programs and services in existence bring the various resources in-house. They are not sufficiently individualized and do not focus on learning how to utilize and take advantage of the resources available within the young adult’s environment. They are typically static and not tailored to meet the dynamics of life changes, shifting choices, new skills and interests characteristic of every young adult’s life including those on the ASD.

Avnei Derech teaches the young adult how to navigate the system on their own, using an experiential model, so that they can continue to access services independently in the future. Avnei Derech introduces a new perspective on how to truly include high functioning people on the autism spectrum in all spheres of life. The leaders of the program focus on understanding the delicate balance between the strength derived from a supporting “peer group” within which people with ASD feel comfortable, “themselves” and safe- on the one hand, and the advantages of maximum social integration- on the other. Once this perspective is attained, achieving inclusion and integration becomes a reality and not just a slogan. Avnei Derech balances the continuum between support and independence; integration and peer support, and

Avnei Derech is an Israeli not for profit organization that relies on the contributions of foundations and individuals to finance our undertakings.