If you’re the parent of a neurodivergent student in high school, you may be wondering: what’s next? 

The answers are as varied as each person.

Maybe a four-year college is the right answer. Maybe a two-year degree. Maybe a job. What will success look like? And what are they ready for? 

Building for the Future

If college is the next step, most people would agree: it’s not just about academics and technical skills. It’s learning to be an adult, usually living away from home, or at least away from the daily oversight of parents. You learn – by trial and error – how to be responsible for yourself.

Maybe your child did fine in school, but never quite fit in. Maybe there was a lot of masking going on to get through the day, just to fit in. Will that same approach work in college?

“We see two common denominators for a Capstone participant,” said Mike Faeth, Director of Franklin Capstone. “You have a diagnosis of some kind of neurodiversity, and you want to get better at something. You want to apply yourself, to move forward. Also, you need to like other people. Our programs are very social!”

Franklin Capstone was created about four years ago to help high school graduates prepare to move into the adult world. “It’s not that there was a gap in programming in the Twin Cities metro area,” said Faeth. “Many public school districts offer transitions programs for 18-22 year olds; other offerings are residential as well as academic. But we knew there weren’t enough quality options for parents and students, and that at 22, some still need support.”

Options for Post-Secondary Success

Only about half of the Capstone students are graduates of Franklin Academy (a K-12 school co-located on the Franklin Center campus in Golden Valley). Students come from public and private schools as well as transitions programs (Capstone accepts students ages 18 to 28). 

Some are already in college and doing fine academically but “so much of the college experience is social,” said Faeth. “Some of our students felt a bit apart from that when they started. They felt they weren’t connecting with that social system and wanted help to know how to do that.”

Capstone participants can take advantage of programming in different ways. There isn’t a “must do” mandatory track.

Some students come after college, transitions, or high school. Some work part-time and go to Capstone, while others attend college (either two-year or four-year) while also taking classes at Capstone.

“The timeframe isn’t set; it’s individual,” explained Faeth. “As we get to know the student we get more data about what success can look like for each individual. We don’t put people on certain tracks, assuming from the beginning what their capabilities can be. It’s about building skills, perspectives, mindsets. We’re not training you to do a thing; we’re training you to be more employable and successful.”

Job Readiness

Statistics on the employment rate for neurodivergent individuals aren’t plentiful, but by some estimates the unemployment rate is 8 times as high as for neurotypical individuals.

That’s one reason, in addition to offering classes on self-determination, social skills, and academics, Capstone focuses on employment skills. It’s an accredited Vocational Rehabilitation center, which means they offer pre-employment transition services around:

  • Self-advocacy
  • Career exploration
  • Work readiness
  • Worked-based learning

Whether it’s helping a participant get a driver’s license to be able to drive to work (or for work!) or coaching someone on how to be a good employee, the team works across many different situations.

The Employment Partnership

The majority of Capstone students are employed, each in different fields. One is a tutor for a math program, for example, one refurbishes computers, and another works at a home improvement store. 

“Success looks different for each person,” said Faeth. “The best thing we can do is help people think through what success looks like for them, specifically.”

One employment barrier the team runs into is the stereotypes of people on the spectrum. “There’s this idea that people on the autism spectrum are predisposed to rote, repetitive work. That might be true of some people on the spectrum, and also of people not on the spectrum. Broad, sweeping generalizations – for any group – can’t be true, so they’re not useful.”

As the Capstone program continues to grow, they’re always looking for potential employers.

“We would love to see employers focus on the 90% of the job description that our candidates can do, versus what they can’t,” said Faeth. “Sometimes, yes, you have to adjust your expectations or simply change your mental picture of the perfect employee. If each person could be seen as an individual with their own contribution, that would be great. We think of employability as a partnership. Definitely hold them accountable – just like you would with anyone – but be open to what they can bring.”

To find out more about Franklin Capstone, let’s schedule a conversation.