New program helping children with autism transition into adulthood

A boy with autism in CTAC's Bridges Program (KXAN Photo)
A boy with autism in CTAC's Bridges Program (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new program in central Texas is helping children with autism transition into adulthood. It’s called the Bridges Program and was started by the Central Texas Autism Center, also known as CTAC.

“Because autism is a lifelong disability and it’s not something you just age out of,” said Kelle Rich, owner and director of CTAC. “There’s a need for even middle-aged people to receive services.”

CTAC has been helping children like Ben Barnett for years. Now 15, he’s excelling academically and socially. “After I go to college I plan to either be a zookeeper or a veterinarian, as I like to work with animals,” said Barnett.

Now he can continue his growth through the Bridges Program.

“If you would have asked me a decade ago what I’d be looking at, this child who’s accomplished what all he’s accomplished, I would never have guessed we would have gotten where we are today,” said Ben’s mother, Kelly McClennahan.

CTAC recognized there weren’t enough services for children as they got older, so the Bridges Program helps fill the gap. They’re able to learn important skills like making a bed, cooking safely in the kitchen and why it’s important to exercise.

“Even texting etiquette and email etiquette,” said Rich. “Some of those really adult skills we need to know.”

They also help prepare the teens to enter the workforce, finding them pre-employment opportunities.

Ruth Apolzon, once a client at CTAC, now works there. She hopes to one day help children with special needs. I want to help them communicate. And I want them to be able to communicate without me telling them when they get older,” said Apolzon. 

Rich says, “We’ve been here 14 years so we have students that have been here all these years and we wanted to go out with them and support them into adulthood.”

The center is accepting new clients and works with most private insurance companies. Clients must have a diagnosis of autism to get therapy at the center.

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