Autism doesn’t simply fade away when someone turns 21. While school system support may end when the student reaches that age, families are often left struggling to find assistance for their loved one and themselves.
For Amy Roccograndi, who just graduated in May with a MSW, it was essential to fill that deep, wide gap in support and there was no time to lose. With two partners, Jackie Tona and Robyn Ruckle, she opened the doors to a new adult training facility — Reaching Beyond Limits — in March.
“At 21, all services stop, but the need for those services doesn’t stop with it. You don’t want their quality of life to deplete; you don’t want the skills they have learned in school to atrophy,” said Roccograndi, who worked for Community Counseling in Kingston, Pennsylvania, while completing her master’s degree.
One male client particularly helped to crystallize her future and build a strong connection between herself and her partners.
“He made us all aware of the challenges that individuals and their families face as those with autism and/or ID (Intellectual Disabilities) are transitioning out of the school system,” she said. “From his story and witnessing others face the same challenges, we decided that something needed to be done. Our facility is meant for individuals with profound disabilities, ages 18 to 59. It is right in the thick of things so we can go on community outings, practice social and community skills, go shopping — live life.”
It was a long road for Roccograndi to arrive at this leap of faith in opening her own facility.
“I started as a business major and I was in my fourth year when I decided that it wasn’t the life I wanted. I’ve always loved helping others, helping them do well to succeed and improve their quality of life,” she said. “I was a single mom with a 1 ½-year-old daughter so I took a child psychology course to see what that was all about. It changed the trajectory of my life — I wanted to devote my life toward improving the lives of others. My daughter Camryn is seven now and has never known me at a time when I wasn’t in school!”
Roccograndi said planning for Reaching Beyond Limits began about a year ago. They found a location, incorporated, received state licensure in January and welcomed their first client in March.
“Often when people think about autism they only think about children, but those children grow up to become adults,” she said. “A lot of the individuals that we will work with are non-verbal. They are not high functioning; they are not out there advocating for themselves.” This is a population, Roccograndi said, that “no one really ‘sees,’ that few often talk about.
“One of the great things about Temple’s program is that it emphasizes practical experience. I had field placements with Ruth’s Place, an emergency homeless shelter for women and I just finished a placement with the Luzerne County public defender’s office,” said Roccograndi. “There’s a great deal of hands-on work in the program, skills that I’ve been able to directly apply to my work in Community Counseling and in getting ready to open our doors to Reaching Beyond Limits.”