After high school, there are many things that shift and change. The adjustments can be difficult and scary for some. For those who are autistic, this is just one of the many challenges they will face. Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other intellectual and developmental disabilities eventually become adults, and at the age of 22, these individuals “age out” and become ineligible for school enrollment. Most are left without the necessary supports, and with no guide to properly transition from childhood to adulthood. Tonja Jones-Blount hopes to eradicate the stressful question: “what happens next?” She has considerable knowledge and experience with autism as a mother raising a son with ASD, including a degree in psychology, and is a Certified Autism Specialist (CAS), a CNA and Certified in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). She has worked with autistic and disabled individuals (including Alzheimer's and mentally ill) for more than 20 years and 18 years professionally. By launching Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL), an extension of Dre's Pathway, Jones-Blount wants to find a solution to the issues that adults with disabilities face. Dre's Pathway to Independence, Inc., a non-profit, community-based organization that provides programs for adolescents and young adults with autism, developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities and learning challenges. “The Center for Lifelong Learning will provide a year-round program of training, services, supports, social activities, community involvement and advocacy for adults with disabilities and their families,” said Jones-Blount. “The journey of autism and any developmental disorder is lifelong and the center represents the need for continued support and guidance that Dre, and individuals like him, have just to get through each day.” In celebration for its 15 year anniversary, Dre's Pathway will be launching the CLL with a HallowFest event on October 31 from 6 – 8 p.m.
Jones-Blount created Dre's Pathway in honor of her son, Aundre, or Dre, who was denied enrollment in his elementary school’s extended-day program. Originally named Dre’s Playhouse Exceptional Academy, the certified McKay Scholarship private school provided a unique educational program for more than 180 K-12 students with disabilities, learning and behavioral challenges. In 2004, Tonja relocated Dre’s Playhouse to her hometown of Perry. The academy operated there from 2004-2008 and bussed more than 60 students from Madison, Greenville and Monticello to attend classes during this time. In 2008, Dre became an adult and Dre's Playhouse became Dre's Pathway. Now, after living in Orlando and Atlanta, Jones-Blount is back to open up Dre’s Pathway Center for Lifelong Learning in Perry. “I'm only one person,” said Jones-Blount. “But I believe one person can change the world.” Jones-Blount wants to provide solutions for the “here-and-now” needs of adults with autism rather than focusing on finding a cure for autism. Jones-Blount knows first-hand the struggle that many parents of young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities are facing and wants to provide real solutions for them. She also wants to change the way businesses and the community views and relates to adults with disabilities. “I have created an innovative curriculum that addresses issues, problems, goals and needs unique to this population: adults with disabilities ages 18 and older,” said Jones- Blount. The Dre’s Pathway Center for Lifelong Learning features a 10-component program of comprehensive life and social skills training.
Participants are taught through creatively-themed programs and activities such as: “I'm still learning,” which focuses on continuing education; "I'm important too!" which teaches self-esteem, boundary-setting and problem-solving; “There's a young man/lady in here!” which focuses on social skills, dating etiquette and conversational skills; "Relax, Relate, Release!” which features activities of recreation, leisure and choice; "Taking Care of Me,” a component dedicated to teaching self-determination, self-advocacy and self-monitoring; and "Let's Get Physical,” which focuses on the importance of health and fitness. Other social activities at the facility include: dine arounds, cooking groups, computer technology, art therapy, music therapy, arts and crafts, field trips, movie nights, game nights, bowling, weekend mixers and much more. The Dre’s Pathway staff consists of experienced, well-trained, CPR/First-Aid certified CNAs and mental health associates that provide the best services and supports available for enrollees and their family members. Dre's Pathway is located at 1709 South Jefferson Street in Perry.
The community is invited to get a tour and introduction of the facility during the official Grand Opening/Ribbon Cutting ceremony on November 6, from 4 – 6 p.m. Dre's Pathway’s hours of operation are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Serene Saturdays will begin in January, which will allow parents and caregivers to drop off their child at the center for four hours on designated Saturdays and get a well-deserved break. Anyone ages 16 and up may be enrolled. For more information on autism spectrum disorders and other intellectual and developmental disabilities or enrolling an adult with autism or other developmental disabilities, contact Tonja Jones-Blount at (850) 295-4516 or email@example.com, or visit www.drespathwayadhc.org or www.facebook.com/drespathway.
1. Greene Publishing, Inc. Photo By Selina Iglesias, October 9, 2015. Tonja Jones-Blount opened up Dre's Pathway in inspiration of her son, Aundre (Dre), who was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old. Pictured, from left to right, are: Dre Jones and Tonja Jones-Blount.