All children have hopes, dreams and ambitions but a child with autism may find it difficult to form a concept of what theirs might entail. Here’s where a Person Centered Plan (PCP) comes in—it can serve as a goal-setting tool that provides teens and young adults on the autism spectrum with an opportunity to develop an appreciation for their unique talents and capabilities and take control of their future.
During elementary and high school, a student’s family, teachers and other professionals typically dictate specific goals through an education plan in which the student is a passive participant. However, a PCP empowers young people with the opportunity to become actively involved in the process. Developing a PCP multimedia presentation allows students to identify their dreams and goals, which are then broken down into monthly and yearly increments they can strive towards.
Creating a PCP
PCPs written by students at the College Internship Program (CIP) in Berkeley, California, can help illustrate how a plan is created. CIP is a national program for teens and collegeage students with Asperger’s Syndrome, high functioning autism, and other learning differences. College-age CIP students create their PCPs at the beginning of the school year, and check in with staff regarding their progress during the year.
Students create colorful, customized slides with graphics to develop a plan that allows them to take ownership of their lives. The PowerPoint can include music, video, photographs, and art, and illustrate interests and activities that bring happiness and provide opportunities for engagement.
The visual nature of this approach keeps students with autism interested and involved in the PCP process, and each student sets a time frame for achieving their goals so that they can realistically track their progress. Students present their PCP to family members and staff in order to reach a common understanding of goals, and once families embrace the PCP process, many continue to use this concept through adulthood.
While CIP works primarily with high school and college-age students, the PCP concept of focusing on goal setting and achievement can be developed for students of any age. Many students on the autism spectrum have a built-in default mechanism to “go it alone,” which can work against them in the adult world. Many need to be taught to build partnerships and alliances for accomplishing the goals expressed in their PCPs. Students soon learn that almost everything they do in life is in relationship to others.
Some professionals in the field of autism claim that insight- centered therapy is unavailable to people on the spectrum— that they can’t take advantage of this due to their myopic sense of themselves and the world around them. However, those who are experienced in the PCP process have seen much success with students in creating a vision for themselves, and in identifying the personal strategies that they will need to develop in order to reach their goals. Moreover, individuals with autism can develop insight into who they are and what they want to be within a framework that brings forth their own unique talents, gifts, hopes and dreams.
In the box below, I’ve focused on two PCPs from students based at the CIP in Berkeley, Steve and Victoria: both have a degree of insight that comes from a more developed level of understanding than some other young people with autism have. These young people often need help with the process of clarifying some of the core issues that are important to them (collegeage students at CIP receive coaching to help with this).
Both Steve and Victoria were able to effectively communicate their wishes and dreams through their PCPs, and they made good progress towards their goals. After meeting regularly with therapists, Steve improved his ability to share his feelings with his parents and friends. He’s taking an anthropology class at a local community college, and has an unpaid internship at a wildlife museum.
After being accompanied by a support worker on several city bus routes, he is now independently using public transportation. Victoria has also made progress. With exercise and therapy, her mental and physical health have improved. She has lost weight and is no longer exhibiting self destructive behaviors. She takes a weekly painting class and has learned to cook three new pasta dishes.
Communicate Wishes and Dreams With a PCP…
STEVE is 18, and he’s taking two general education classes at a local community college. He’s passionate about wildlife and helping endangered species, and he hopes to utilize his passion for animals with an internship or job working for a large foundation that protects wildlife. He would like to control his frustrations and learn to stay relaxed through exercise and meditation.
- I would like to have an open, honest, and happy relationship with my mom and dad, and my peers
- I want to make new friends, and learn to enjoy their company and communicate my feelings without hiding anything
- I would like to learn how to calm myself down and to decrease my tendency to anger quickly with others
- I am a naturalist, and would love to work at a foundation that helps protect wildlife. I would like to help promote awareness of endangered species.
- In the short term, I would like to learn to use public transportation
- I value a strong work ethic, and have a firm desire to achieve economic security through my work helping endangered animals
- I value honesty, and believe it is important to tell the truth
VICTORIA is 19 and has been diagnosed with high functioning autism. A talented painter, she’s passionate about the creative arts. Victoria tries to avoid conflict and likes predictability in her environment. She hopes to attend a community college with small classes and would like to develop good relationships with her teachers. It’s important for Victoria to feel like she is part of a team, and she’d like to work in a stress-free environment so she doesn’t become overwhelmed by her sensory issues. She loves children and hopes to have her own family some day.
- It is my life’s dream to use the creative arts, including drama and painting, as a therapeutic tool. I would love to be affiliated someday with a hospital that treats seriously ill children with this type of therapy. I have an altruistic love for helping people, especially children
- My most important goal is to take good care of my mental and physical health. I would like to lose weight and to not resort to self-destructive behaviors again. I would like to be a therapist and use the creative arts to help young kids to feel more open about their feelings. I know how alive and well I feel when I act and create artistic collages. I am motivated to help children feel better about themselves. I know what it is like to feel different and lonely. I love helping people and I love to laugh and to feel part of a group.
- In the short term, I would like to learn to cook a few meals. I like chicken and pasta and would like to learn some recipes that are easy and tasty
- I value my own personal style and unique ideas.
- I have a real need to have people accept me for who I am, and treat me with respect
- I value having my own space
- I like the time to adjust to change and want to work with people I like and trust
About The Author
Dr. Michael McManmon has over 40 years of experience with students with learning differences and Asperger’s syndrome, and he himself was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He is the founder of CIP, a program that eases the transition to university and independence for young adults with learning differences.