New Jersey college's program gets autistic adults ready for work

Summer Cavanez, 19, always dreamed of going to college. Now, it’s her reality, thanks to a program at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey.

Turning Point is a program for young adults with intellectual disabilities— 80 percent of its participants are on the autism spectrum.

“Every young adult should have the opportunity to reach for their dreams,” said Tracy Rand, Turning Point’s managing director, told “Why should someone be limited because of a disability?”

Often options are limited for students like these, explained Bergen County Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, who helps raise money for programs like Turning Point as a member of the college’s foundation board.

“We have a lot of parents with children with a whole multitude of intellectual disabilities who once they age out of normal school programs have no idea of where to go or what to do,” Schepisi told “Having the program is a lifesaver both to the students and their family members.”

On one school day, the students were learning about solar power with the help of mentors from the college’s science, technology, engineering and math program (STEM).

“I’ve been better at math, social skills, and internships,” Joe Schnabel, 22, a student, told

“We also learned about job applications, taxes, budgets and
all that stuff,” Cavanez said.

Turning Point started in 2012 and is just one of about two dozen college programs for students with intellectual disabilities funded by the U.S. Department of Education. So far, about 65 students have completed the $6,000-a-year program.

Most have gone on to jobs for which they wouldn’t otherwise be prepared.

“I’m thinking about going into cooking or computers,” Schnabel said. He’ll graduate in the spring.

The Turning Point program at Bergen Community College
received a $2.4 million grant this fall, and group’s hope is that as the program expands, it will serve as a model for other colleges and universities to start their own programs across the country.

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