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Autism Spectrum Disorders




Language Disclaimer: While we recognize that there are many different ways of talking about autism (see Kenny et al., 2016), we have chosen to use primarily person-first language in this context as it is consistent with the language used within special education and in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004).



In 2017, Dr. Smith received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R34 MH111531) to modify the virtual interview training program for transition-age youth with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. The original virtual interview training was designed to meet the needs of adults with serious mental illness. As you can imagine, the needs of transition-age youth (typically 14-26 years old) are quite different than adults. Thus, Dr. Smith and his team partnered directly with youth with autism spectrum disorders, their parents, teachers, community employers, and employed adults with autism spectrum disorders to identify ways the virtual interview training could be updated to meet the needs of youth with autism. Also, Dr. Smith used additional funding to ensure the new version reflected the needs of transition-age youth with other disabilities and youth involved in juvenile justice.


 This new tool is now called Virtual Interview Training for Transition Age Youth (VIT-TAY). View the VIT-TAY mock interview scoring manual here: R34 Autism Mock Interview Scoring Manual.


From 2018 to 2020, the Level Up Lab partnered with 5 schools in Michigan and Ohio to evaluate the effectiveness of Virtual Interview Training for Transition-Age Youth (VIT-TAY) when implemented in special education pre-employment services for youth with  autism. We recruited 71 youth with autism into the study. There were 48 youth who practiced with VIT-TAY (and received services as usual) and 23 youth who only received services-as-usual. See some of our preliminary findings here.



School Partners



Autism Model School

Autism Model School, in partnership with parents and the community, provides a nurturing environment, and develops the full potential of differently-abled students within the Autistic Spectrum using a multidisciplinary approach addressing individual needs.


Ann Arbor Academy

Ann Arbor Academy is a life changing school for students in grades 4-13 who have learning and social difficulties such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and more. Students who find success are often gifted learners who thrive with a specialized approach that teaches the way they learn best.  Our gender inclusive, safe, affirming community celebrates neurodiversity and students’ individual stories and identities as they learn how to learn and to reach their potential.


Troy High School – Project Search 

Since its inception, Project SEARCH has grown from a single program site at Cincinnati Children’s to over 450 sites across the United States and Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Netherlands. Project SEARCH’s primary objective is to secure competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities.


Southfield Public Schools – Kennedy Learning Center

Kennedy Learning Center provides quality educational experiences for special needs students in an environment conducive to learning. Their program hinges upon dynamic collaboration between key constituents such as caregivers, parents, students, teachers and social workers. Each student has an individualized program that is comprehensive and functional while addressing their future needs in the home, school and community. In the Next Step program, students advance through a series of tiers with the objective of reaching independence.  The first tier is Tier 3, where students learn fundamental skills that will assist them in being successful in the workforce and with social interaction. They then advance to Tier 2, where they acquire more advanced skills specific to occupational partnership we have with the community.


Lincoln Park Public Schools – Mixter Institute

The Mixter Institute for Transition has a rich history of preparing students for the work force and to live as independent adults.  They meet the needs of students on an individual basis and work closely with students/families to achieve personal goals. Their students have the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of experiences such as woodworking, gardening, cashiering and stocking.


New Connections Academy

New Connections Academy is an answer to the growing need for services for children identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders. These students may be identified with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Delay, Emotional Disturbance or other special education classifications. A sister school to Connection’s Day School and South Campus, New Connections Academy serves boys and girls ages 6 to 21 placed by local school districts. New Connections Academy provides school, family and community partnerships leading to successful learning.


South Campus

South Campus is a reclaiming therapeutic environment for boys and girls ages 6 to 21 placed by local school districts. The children may be emotionally disturbed, behavior disordered, learning disabled, speech and language impaired, mentally impaired, other health impaired, autistic or may have traumatic brain injury. South Campus provides school, family and community partnerships leading to successful learning.

The mission of New Connections Academy and South Campus is to integrate school, family and community in order to provide the highest quality academic and therapeutic programs. These programs are designed to enable students to become successful learners through a sense of belonging, generosity, mastery and independence.


Have Dreams

Have Dreams is a Chicago-area nonprofit serving children, teens and adults impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We offer after-school, workplace training and adult day programs, along with diagnostic and family support services. Serving ages 16 months to adulthood, we offer a broad range of programs to serve the full range of the autism spectrum. Come learn about what we do and how to support our cause. Have Dreams’ mission is to help individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) learn, function independently and socialize so that they may realize their full potential and develop into contributing members of their communities.