Program launched for special education students to combat social isolation

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | July 10, 2019

Image with caption: Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D. (left) and Jim Sutfin, Ed.D.

Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D. (left) and Jim Sutfin, Ed.D.

The Munroe-Meyer Institute and Millard Public Schools will partner on new social and recreational skills development programs for special education students with autism and other forms of intellectual and developmental disabilities, designed to decrease social isolation and prepare students for life after school.

"Social and life skills development is essential for the long-term prosperity of every individual," said Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Munroe-Meyer Institute.

The two programs will follow students into adulthood, the first serving youth in middle and high school, and the second focusing on post-high school transition services, effectively providing seamless support and training to youths from age 12 through age 21. The Hattie B. Munroe Foundation will fund the programs at more than $70,000 annually for the first year and plans to continue funding for another two years following a review of first-year achieved metrics.

"One of the things we see most often with kids who graduate is that once they lose the social milieu they have available at school, they can become socially isolated, and some become depressed," said Michael Crawford, Ph.D., director of the MMI Department of Recreational Therapy, which will staff the initiative. "We are trying to get in front of that and give these students skills to enhance their social circles."

"Public education should be more than preparation for a job. It should be preparation for life," Dr. Crawford said.

"We have a world-class educational community that recognizes the needs of all students." said Jim Sutfin, Ed.D., superintendent of Millard Public Schools. "We are grateful for this grant from the Hattie B. Munroe Foundation and for our partnership with the Munroe-Meyer Institute. This is truly a gift that will continue to give. The social skills these students will develop will help them throughout their lives."

The middle school/high school program will combat social isolation through two different services -- weekly, individualized social skills instruction, and the establishment of monthly social clubs. The social clubs will group special education students with one recreation technician staff member and one typically developing peer from the same school. The transition program will build on these efforts, focusing on community inclusion skills, personal resource management and social skills sets.

Individualized social skills training is intended to help establish baseline conversational skills that are essential to expanding the social circles available to students, while the social clubs allow these skills to be practiced and refined in normalized recreational pursuits.

The program will be put in place at Millard South High School, Andersen and Central Middle Schools and the districtwide transitional living program for young adults, which helps students with intellectual and developmental disabilities transition to life after school.

"At MMI, we are committed to helping those with intellectual and developmental disabilities reach their full potential," said Dr. Mirnics. "We hope that this partnership with Millard Public Schools will develop into a national model for the school system/health care institution partnership and that ultimately such programs will be reimbursed by health insurance companies."

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Tom O'Connor
July 10, 2019 at 10:56 AM

What a great program and partnership! Kudos to MMI and MPS for making this happen. Sounds like a win-win for both organizations and especially for the young adults in the program