Quilt of services
From horseback riding to gardening and therapy to skiing, Northwest Colorado offers a patchwork of programs to help individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities work on social cognition, communication, life and work skills.
The Yampa Valley Autism Program casts a wide net when supporting families with children who have developmental disorders.
It serves more than just children with autism spectrum disorders, and when it added the Community Cultivation program in 2010, it expanded its support to young adults who are entering a transition point in life.
“One of the things we have focused on is our vocational work program,” Lu Etta Loeber, executive director of Yampa Valley Autism Program, said about Community Cultivation.
“We have a horticultural program that teaches these skills — life skills and work skills.”
Community Cultivation started as an independent program to provide at-risk youths and those with disabilities with job skills before becoming part of Yampa Valley Autism Program. The program continues to serve youths with cognitive, physical or mental health disabilities, according to Program Director Lorelei Ernst.
“The whole purpose is vocational,” Ernst said. “It was to bridge between school and work.”
Deb Reed, the horticulture therapist for the program, said like with art or recreational therapy, the plants are the tool for imparting work skills.
Community Cultivation maintains garden beds at the Yampa River Botanic Park, and at the end of the growing season, the produce is sold at the Mainstreet Farmers Market, marketed to local restaurants or donated to LIFT-UP of Routt County.
On Aug. 29, the program dedicated its new greenhouse that will allow it to serve young adults on a nearly year-round basis, Loeber said.
“Right now, the greenhouse is so new it’s a matter of trying things,” Ernst said. “The end goal is to have a year-round program where youth and young adults are able to work on these skills in either the greenhouse or in job-seeking skills.”
“They learn how to get to work on time, how to interact with peers, how to focus and plan,” Loeber said. “They gain a lot of self-esteem by this.”
The program has been at the Botanic Park for five years, and Loeber said Gayle Lehman, the park’s supervisor, has been a partner from the beginning. The program will continue to operate those beds in addition to the new space at the greenhouse, which is located off 13th Street on land provided by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
“They’re learning how to work, then get along with peers, which is very hard for a child with disabilities sometimes,” Loeber said.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz