University program helps metro students with intellectual disabilities learn and live independently – WSB-TV Channel 2

CLEMSON, SC — As young men and women prepare to return to college campus this fall, Channel 2 Action News explored a program that helps some metro Atlanta students who have developmental disabilities go to class, learn and live independently.

The latest data collection from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 44 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

Marietta Davis is a mom from metro Atlanta who has two autistic sons. She is a lawyer, speaker and author on the subject.

She said Channel 2’s Fred Blankenship she knew something was different when her son Tyler was born.

“I was adamant that I was going to integrate him into a normal environment as much as possible,” Davis said.

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This environment was Clemson University. Specifically, ClemsonLIFE.

The program accepts about a dozen students each fall semester. It is designed for young men and women with developmental disabilities such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and other diagnoses.

The university accepted Tyler into the program and his life changed. Davis told us he’s self-employed, has a job, runs his own checking account, and has decided to stay in the Clemson community.

ClemsonLIFE integrates lessons for independent living into a normal experience.

Students learn to cook, do laundry, manage money, create a resume and find a job. Students live in dorms with three other ClemsonLIFE classmates and one traditional student.

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Originally from North Georgia, Lily Moore is already an actress and advocate for people with Down syndrome. As a freshman, she wants to learn skills to work in the healthcare field.

She also told us that she looks forward to the college experience, including “dorms and sports clubs.”

Channel 2 also spoke to Alpharetta’s Colleen and Chuck Hicks. Their son, Ross, is a sophomore with ClemsonLIFE.

Chuck Hicks said his son’s behavior changed during that first year. He, too, is self-employed and looks forward to a job in Clemson, SC.

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Program manager Erica Walters said there are more than 30 former ClemsonLIFE graduates remaining in the community. This is partly due to the close relationship the school has with local businesses. They partner with the university to find jobs for students.

Channel 2 spoke with Graham Bitzer. He is a Duluth native who now resides in Clemson, South Carolina. Bitzer got a job at a hotel. He told Channel 2 that he helps the maintenance crew and enjoys being known in the community.

Clemson University offers scholarships and financial aid. There are more than three hundred similar programs across the country, including eight in Georgia. Walters told us that parents need to research and apply early.

ThinkCollege.net is a great resource that includes information about programs by state, a contact for each, and financial aid information.

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